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Lowell Mountain wind project ‘stop work’ order continues, but so does work

MONTPELIER – A stop-work order remained in effect Monday for a wind power project being built on northern Vermont’s Lowell Mountains, yet work on some aspects of the project continued.

State environmental regulators last week issued the stop-work order because of excessive sediment running off the project site with storm water – something project opponents said they predicted would happen.

Dorothy Schnure, spokeswoman for project developer Green Mountain Power, said construction of a road that is being built to carry equipment up the mountain has stopped, but work continues on parts of the project devoted to handling storm water.

Schnure said Monday that work would continue until “both ANR (the state Agency of Natural Resources) and we agree that all the storm water systems are in place that need to be in place.”

“Everything we are doing up there is stuff we’re permitted to do,” she said. “ANR is watching carefully what we do.”

Problems with silt-laden runoff from the construction site getting into wetlands and streams following recent heavy rains have given critics of the wind power project new ammunition.

The 21-turbine, $156 million project, which GMP says will produce enough power for 24,000 homes, is slated for completion late next year. It has drawn support from residents of its host town, Lowell; much of the opposition has come from people living in neighboring Albany and Craftsbury.

Among the criticisms voiced by opponents is that construction of a road across the ridge line of the Lowell Mountains to bring turbines, towers and construction equipment to the site will destroy wildlife habitat and will cause runoff that will choke nearby wetlands and streams.

Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, an outspoken critic of large-scale wind power projects, had this message for state regulators Monday:

“We met with you (regulators), and we told you this was going to happen. It’s happening, and you’re not doing your job,” Smith said. “This site is out of control. The permit ANR issued is not sufficient to protect the environment.”

The stop-work order was issued Wednesday, but Smith said blasting had continued at the site Thursday and Friday.

Smith provided a copy of an email sent to her Monday by David Mears, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, explaining his department’s view of the situation. Mears’ department is part of ANR.

“While most work and vehicular traffic on the site is required to cease, the stop work order does require work to be done on site as necessary to implement the erosion prevention and sediment control plan,” Mears wrote. “This work includes moving earth and stone to change grades and the construction of best management practices and also could include blasting. I suspect this is the work that citizens have been hearing.”

Monday was a state holiday; Mears could not be reached at his office and did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment.