State environmental officials Friday granted five key environmental permits to a Lowell wind project that now awaits final go-ahead from the state Public Service Board.
“This is an important step,” said Dorothy Schnure, spokeswoman for Green Mountain Power Corp., which is planning to build 21 turbines atop Lowell Mountain in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.
For opponents of the controversial project, it was a step in the wrong direction.
“This is a very sad day for Vermont’s water quality,” said Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.
Agency of Natural Resources said in a news release outlining the permits that staff scientists determined state water quality standards will be met and that concerns of opponents were taken into consideration in establishing requirements Green Mountain Power has to meet.
The state Agency of Natural Resources issued these permits Friday:
• Two stormwater permits for construction of an access road on Lowell Mountain.
• A stormwater permit for controlling discharges from impervious surfaces.
• A permit for wetlands work.
• A water quality certification that agency officials said requires the company to follow detailed monitoring of water quality in seven streams for five years.
“The agency disagrees with comments that stormwater practices required by the permits will not work or that the agency has underestimated the volume of stormwater that will be generated by the project,” the agency said in a news release.
“It shows we’ve got a robust plan to protect water quality,” Schnure said.
Smith, whose organization is among several that are fighting the project, warned that the project will alter the headwaters of Vermont’s precious streams.
She and others appealed this week to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, arguing that plans to divert stormwater runoff are inappropriate for a heavily sloped site and destined for failure. She said opponents have been thwarted by federal and state political pressure to approve the wind project.
“People need to get real about the impact of constructing roads on top of a precious mountain,” Smith said.
Steve Wright of Craftsbury, another opponent, noted that his town has already filed notice it will appeal permitting decisions to the state Supreme Court. Opponents also plan to file for a stay to prevent construction if the Public Service Board issued final approval.
The $150 million project needs approval from the Public Service Board of its plan to repair unauthorized work done by a landowner on property Green Mountain Power has slated as a conservation easement for wildlife disturbed by the project.
The company had hoped to start construction Aug. 1 but was delayed by discovery of that violation.
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