A stop-work order has been issued for construction on the Lowell Mountain wind power project because of possible environmental violations, a top Vermont official said Friday.
Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz confirmed that the order had been issued for what an inspector determined was inadequate handling of storm runoff during the early stages of work on the project, which is being developed by Green Mountain Power Corp.
Markowitz said that as crews were working on a new road that is to carry equipment and eventually the more than 400-foot-tall wind towers to the mountain ridge line, they needed gravel to prevent newly exposed soil from running off during rains.
“As they’re clearing land to build the road they need to put cover on some of the exposed ground so that there isn’t runoff,” she said. “The place that they expected to get the gravel did not have an adequate amount and so they moved to another location that was not contemplated in the permit.”
GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said the utility reported problems with runoff early in the week to the Agency of Natural Resources – problems made worse by heavy rains last weekend. She said a state inspector came to the site, confirmed the problems and issued the stop-work order Wednesday. She said road-clearing work remained halted Friday as the company awaited a final review and permission from the state to resume work.
Schnure said the result would be that the company was beginning work on storm water drainage systems it had planned to wait to install until the road was built. “With the really heavy rains it became evident we needed to work on that now,” she said. “We refocused our attention on getting those done before we continue with the clearing.”
GMP’s $156 million, 21-turbine wind power project is due to be completed by the end of next year and is expected to provide enough power for 24,000 homes.
Some neighbors and environmental groups have vehemently opposed the project, saying it will destroy key wildlife habitat and spoil mountain views in northern Vermont with towers and turbines standing more than 400 feet in the air.
David Mears, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, which is part of the Agency of Natural Resources, said steps to slow runoff that were needed and missing were the gravel cover for newly exposed soil and stone-lined catch basins along the side of the part of the road that had been built to slow water from running downhill and carrying sediment with it.
“These were fairly serious violations of the storm water permit, particularly the storm water control (problems) and the discharge of sediment,” he said.
Luke Snelling of opposition group Energize Vermont pointed to earlier environmental violations, including improper tree cutting and filing of wetlands on adjacent conservation land that caused the project to be delayed for months when they were discovered.
“This is the second time at this site something has been screwed up to the detriment of the environment,” Snelling said. “How many more to we have to go before we see this is a bad project in a highly sensitive place?”