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DEC commissioner: State considers penalties for Lowell wind problems

The state continues to investigate the impact of improper storm water runoff at the Lowell wind project.

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources issued a stop-work order Oct. 5, requiring Green Mountain Power to stop construction of access roads to the Lowell ridge line while proper storm water runoff controls were installed on the roadway.

Work was allowed to resume on the rest of the project last week.

The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, an arm of ANR, has the task of deciding if the failure to complete erosion controls as required by the storm water runoff permit was avoidable, and to evaluate the damage caused.

“We are exploring an enforcement response,” DEC commissioner David Mears said.

“We haven’t decided” if GMP would be fined for the lack of proper controls, Mears said. DEC is “exploring penalties.”

The lack of controls became obvious after heavy rains fell the weekend of Oct. 1-2 and caused some erosion at the Lowell construction site.

GMP estimated that about four inches of rain fell over several days.

But Mears said the storm water controls required for the Lowell project are designed to handle that much rain.

“The rain was well within rainfall norms,” he said. “This could have been avoided.”

Lowell wind opponents were outraged that problems cropped up with the project so early in the construction phase. During storm water hearings this summer, they questioned whether the state has enough staff involved in erosion control oversight to handle high-elevation construction sites like the Lowell wind project.

Mears said the state employees involved with overseeing the Lowell and Sheffield wind projects will be vigilant when it comes to storm water and erosion controls.

“We take these things seriously.”

The Lowell wind project is in the initial and critical phases of building a road network to link the staging area off Route 100 in Lowell to a ridge line crane path and the 21 turbine sites that GMP plans.

Blasting is scheduled into November to prepare the sites and the crane path, with a court order in place requiring protesters to move out of the ridge line blast zone.

GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said Monday afternoon that she had not heard if blasting had occurred Monday near the property of Don and Shirley Nelson, who allowed protesters to occupy a camp in hopes of stopping blasting. The temporary restraining order requires Nelsons to tell the campers to clear out of any blast zone during blasting periods.

Storm water controls must be built into the road network.

The construction phase of any mountaintop wind project is when the most damage could occur from erosion if controls are not properly installed, Mears said.

By comparison, a wind project that is operating should not create as much cause for concern, he said. A site where erosion controls are properly in place and “revegetated” does not have much exposed soil. The risk of erosion is far less, he said.