Lowell Stormwater Permit Appeal Filed
Group Says ANR Permits Don’t Meet Federal Clean Water Act and Vermont Water Quality Standards
This week Energize Vermont joined concerned neighbors of the Lowell wind project in formally appealing the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) water quality permits for the 21-turbine project. The appeals question whether permits granted by ANR to Green Mountain Power meet the federal Clean Water Act and Vermont Water Quality Standards.
“After extensive review of the permits granted, it is clear that ANR has allowed the use of inadequate, experimental stormwater control methods, and that the applicant has vastly underestimated the potential volume of stormwater that will run off the site,” said Energize Vermont spokesperson Lukas Snelling. He continued, “We are appealing the permits because we are convinced that the volume of run-off ANR is allowing at the site will result in irreversible harm to the area’s natural resources, including aquatic life, groundwater sources, wetlands, and headwater streams.”
The appeals question why ANR would issue permits that allow for use of experimental, or “alternate” best management practices, does not require comprehensive baseline water quality monitoring, and allows hundreds of feet of headwater streams to be filled.
Due to legislation passed in 2010, the appeal will be heard by the Public Service Board, not the Environmental Court.
The permits have been reviewed by Geoffrey Goll, P.E., of the water resource firm Princeton Hydro. Goll said it was highly likely that significant and permanent damage will occur to aquatic life, including native brook trout, from degradation of water quality under the ANR permits. “Put simply, the applications for ANR permits did not provide any credible evidence that the project would protect surrounding headwater streams from degradation as a result of construction and operation activities at this high-risk site. The Agency of Natural Resources is charged with protecting the State’s water quality and upholding federal law, and the application and the State’s assessment of the project did not achieve assurance of such protection.”
Alternate Best Management Practices permitted under the permit include the extensive use of rock level spreaders. Governmental authorities throughout the country who’ve had field experience with level spreaders, including federal and state entities, offer significantly more caution on the use of these practices on steep slopes. In fact, the industry-recognized King County, Washington Surface Water Design Manual is highly critical of level spreaders at similar sites, “They are frequently under-designed and, despite the best installations, are rarely perfectly level, which results in the release of stormwater at a particular point. This concentrated runoff can result in catastrophic erosion downslope. Given such design failures, the use of spreaders is not encouraged.”
The lack of appropriate mitigation techniques has exposed the permits to appeal across a range of areas. One of the largest concerns is the lack of approved baseline pre-construction monitoring. Goll argued that, “The ANR’s logic is flawed in not requiring comprehensive baseline data. Without that information, there is no way to assess the true impacts to existing uses. In fact, the applicant has proposed no alternatives in the event this experiment in high elevation development fails to adequately control stormwater runoff. The citizens of Vermont should be very concerned, especially in wake of the largest weather disaster to hit Vermont in recent history. Adequately functioning headwaters and streams are the first line of defense in mitigating floods in the valleys; and the applicant is going to fill hundreds of feet of stream and thousands of square feet of wetlands to construct their access and crane roads.”
“Our concerns are numerous and we are hopeful that the Public Service Board will take them fully into account when evaluating the appeals,” Goll commented. “In the absence of a comprehensive analysis regarding secondary and cumulative impacts to aquatic resources by the applicant, the project as permitted does not satisfy the standards set forth in the Vermont Water Quality Standards and the federal Clean Water Act and therefore the permit decision should be reversed,” Goll concluded.
“Qualified experts have shown that mixing some of our state’s most pristine headwater streams with massive industrial development could have catastrophic results on water quality and aquatic life in the area,” said Energize Vermont’s Snelling. “In light of recent flooding, we expect our state’s natural resource agency to be particularly aware of the potential for development at high elevations with highly erodible soils to increase the volume and velocity of water flowing off the mountains. ANR should be taking a fresh look at these permits, which were issued prior to the flooding, to assure the public that they contain the highest levels of protection. By appealing these permits, we are saying to ANR that Vermonters expect more from them when it comes to protecting our natural resources.”
Snelling concluded, “We can put community and residential solar solutions on already disturbed lands and completely avoid many of these issues. Isn’t it time we use some common sense and look for solutions that do not carry these vast negative impacts on our natural resources?”
Energize Vermont was created to educate and advocate for establishing renewable energy solutions that are in harmony with the irreplaceable character of Vermont, and that contribute to the well-being of all her people. This mission is achieved by researching, collecting, and analyzing information from all sources; and disseminating it to the public, community leaders, legislators, media, and regulators for the purpose of ensuring informed decisions for long term stewardship of our communities.
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September 20, 2011
Contact: Lukas B. Snelling