A state agency has removed the biggest remaining obstacle to the construction of a controversial wind project in the Northeast Kingdom. The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources granted five water quality permits to Green Mountain Power on Friday afternoon, largely clearing the way for the 21 wind turbine project known as Kingdom Community Wind.
The electric utility, which is owned by Montreal-based company Gaz Metro, has the go-ahead to begin construction, pending a decision from the Public Service Board, which has a final say in the matter.
The stormwater and wetlands permits allow Green Mountain Power to install an access road and 459-foot-tall Vestas turbines on the ridgeline of Lowell Mountain in Lowell.
The Lowell Mountain wind farm proposal is the second industrial wind project slated for the Northeast Kingdom. The 50-turbine FirstWind project in Sheffield is under construction, and the Kingdom Community Wind proposal was set for an Aug. 1 start date, but unapproved preconstruction activities delayed the schedule.
Green Mountain Power sought a plan to ensure the least amount of damage to the wetlands, according to company’s director of communications, Dotty Schnure. The electric utility voluntarily collected biological and chemical data from the streams to oversee the monitoring process.
Schnure said that some wetlands would be damaged in the construction of the turbines. Green Mountain Power has agreed to mitigate that harm by setting aside 1,000 acres of Lowell Mountain into conservation.
David Mears, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said it was one of the more significant permits he had authorized since he became commissioner and, perhaps, that the ANR had ever permitted. Mears said the long and complicated documents were put together by different teams of people, and the agency took it “very seriously.”
Former Commissioner Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Steve Wright was staggered by the ANR’s decision to grant all of the permits. Wright, a resident of Craftsbury and anti-wind proponent, said simply, “They blew it.”
“When I saw the ANR’s decision, I had to take a little bit of time to breathe,” Write said. “I’ve watched that agency (ANR) grow, and this is its darkest day in 43 years I’ve known the agency.”
Lowell Mountain hydrogeology has developed over 12,000 years, Wright said. He fears that the project, which will create new impenetrable surfaces and clearcuts, will cause the water from rainstorms to rush off the mountain very quickly and contribute to sedimentation of streams that feed into the Mississquoi River.
Wright said he believes that climate change is already having a real effect on the mountain as it is.
According to Wright, Route 14 running by the mountain was cut across twice during the unprecedented rainfalls last spring, and the wind project will bring on a slew of new problems, including sediments washing off the ridges.
“You cannot put something like that on ridges like this mountain and not expect a disaster,” Wright said. “Now we’re going to build a road that will be as wide as the interstate in places.”
The permits issued by the ANR were similar to those issued to ski resorts. The monitoring program imposed on Green Mountain Power to protect high-quality waters is more restrictive than that of any ski area, however, according to a press release from the agency.
The permits included:
– Two stormwater permits for the access road, the wind farm and the associated transmission line;
– A state stormwater operational permit for control of discharges “from impervious surfaces constructed at the site”;
– A state wetlands permit, “including required mitigation activities”;
– A water quality certification pursuant to Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act.
The ANR insisted that Vermont Water Quality Standards are to be met, and overall mountain hydrology must be maintained.
For GMP to take the next step in construction, the permits need to be approved by the Public Service Board. Members of the board were unable to comment on the case due to its pending status. According to the PSB clerk Sue Hudson, there are still motions pending, along with other issues, making the timeline of when the board can make its decision indeterminable.
“There is no climate change value, wind does nothing,” Wright said finally. “This is a terrible mistake for the environment for some electricity that isn’t cheap and going to a Canadian corporation.”
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