SEARSBURG – The Deerfield Wind Project is one of 14 projects across the country that the Obama administration announced Tuesday would be “expedited” through permitting and environmental review processes.
Iberdrolla Renewables has proposed a 170-turbine, 30-megawatt wind power facility on U.S Forest Service Land in Readsboro and Searsburg. If approved, it would be the first commercial wind farm on federal forest land in the country.
How the process will be expedited isn’t clear. The announcement was made through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which said in a release that it comes out of a presidential memorandum issued in August after a recommendation from the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
Decision by December
According to the USDA, the White House is hoping to have a decision on the project by December, which had been roughly the Forest Service’s timeline.
The other projects listed involve improvements to transportation, water supply, housing, habitat restoration, and other energy operations.
Ethan Ready, public affairs officer for the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forest, said the U.S. Forest Service has been carefully reviewing and following the process to create a Final Environmental Impact Statement, which should also come with a decision on the Deerfield project.
The issue has been talked about for the past few years. The Vermont Public Service Board has issued a certificate of public good for the Deerfield project, which prompted the Forest Service to create basically an extra first draft of the environmental impact statement, one that incorporated information the Section 248 process uncovered.
Public comments were taken for the final draft earlier this year, said Ready, and the Forest Service staff has been busy reviewing the public’s comments and responding to them.
He said the service can issue one of four decisions. Forest Supervisor Colleen Madrid could deny Iberdrolla’s application outright, approve it in full, or only approve turbines on one side of Route 8.
Robert Bayer, Forest Service project manager, said the issues people have raised with the project largely involve environmental impacts, specifically to bird, bat, and bear populations.
It was recently announced that bear hunters in the Searsburg area should avoid shooting bears wearing radio an GPS collars they’d been fitted with as part of a study on how the wind project may affect them. It’s not illegal to shoot a bear with a collar, as they can be hard to see, but the forest service is asking hunters to return the collar.
The study will continue after the towers are built, and stop if the project isn’t approved. Iberdrolla is paying for a third party company to tag the animals.
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