Green Mountain Power announced an agreement this week that would conserve nearly 1,700 acres of wilderness on the western side of the Lowell mountain range as mitigation for the Lowell wind project.
Now GMP wants the state’s utility regulators to approve the already completed conservation deal by the end of the year, before a deadline runs out Dec. 31. If the Public Service Board does not approve the deal by Dec. 31, GMP would have to stop work on the wind project as of Jan. 1, 2012.
The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources backs the deal and will ask the Public Service Board to support it. The deal meets the memorandum of understanding signed by ANR and GMP as part of the agency’s support for the wind project at hearings before the board.
GMP invested more than $1 million to broker the deal involving ANR, two property owners and the Vermont Land Trust. The deal took most of the year to resolve, leaving just weeks to spare before the board’s deadline. Parties in the wind project hearings have another week to comment on the agreement.
The deal was critical for ANR’s support of the wind project. GMP is constructing roads and sites in preparation to erect 21 industrial-grade wind turbines on the ridgeline next year.
The deal creates a fragment-connectivity easement along the western side of the mountain range that opens land for wildlife movement, said Deborah Markowitz, ANR secretary.
“It’s really terrific. It’s a great outcome for this,” Markowitz said Wednesday.
The fragment-connectivity easement creates a wildlife corridor through Vermont “that’s absolutely protected,” Markowitz said.
The land connects the Green River State Park near Morrisville to the southwest of the Lowell Mountain range to the Atlas Timberlands Partnership property to the north and east near the range.
The development rights for the 1,662 acres on two pieces of property have been given to the Vermont Land Trust. The landowner of both parcels, Echo Forest Management Company of Eden, can still conduct sugaring and forestry on most of the land, with some restrictions on key sections to create an untouched wildlife corridor.
The deal was very complicated, GMP official Robert Dostis said this week. “We are very pleased with the outcome of acquiring the conservation easement.”
The 1,662 acres are in addition to other mountain land in Lowell that has already been conserved as part of GMP’s request for the certificate of public good from the PSB.
Dostis said GMP has worked to conserve about 2,000 acres in mitigation for the 90 acres of being used for the Kingdom Community Wind project.
“That’s a significant amount,” he said.
He said the land for the wind turbines would be conserved forever under the state’s permit once the wind turbines are decommissioned.
ANR agreed to support the wind project and the fragmentation of wilderness it caused if GMP helped protect other land from fragmentation.
ANR targeted the two parcels of land in Eden as worth protecting, Markowitz said.
GMP bought what’s called the Boomhour property of 714 acres in Eden for $1.065 million from a Scottish company, Dostis said.
GMP sold the Boomhour parcel to Eden’s Echo Forest Management in exchange for the development rights of 958.7 acres of Echo Forest land, he said.
Then GMP sold the development rights of both parcels to Vermont Land Trust for a total of $20.
“GMP has been pursuing fragmentation-connectivity easements since last winter, when ANR identified two parcels of land that ANR deemed preferable for conservation because of their location, size and ability to provide the intended connectivity benefits,” said Benjamin Marks, attorney for GMP, in his letter to the PSB.
“This effort has required the involvement and cooperation and rigorous work of many parties – the two landowners, the land trust, ANR and GMP. All parties worked very hard over the past several months to complete these efforts,” Marks said.
The deal was inked Dec. 6 and GMP presented it to the PSB on Dec. 7.
Marks explained to the board why GMP is asking the board for approval quickly.
“Although GMP would have preferred to file the easements earlier, we are filing the easements immediately after they were finally agreed upon,” he said.
“GMP respectfully request that the board approve the easements as soon as possible after the two-week comment period expires, in order to avoid the need to cease construction on Dec. 31 as required if the easements are not approved,” Marks wrote.
Nearly 200 people are working on the project and delays could cause significant costs, he said.
The deal is complete. GMP decided to file the easement agreement in executed form to avoid delays, Marks said.
He asked the board to approve the agreement, adding conditions to be met after the fact if necessary rather than stop the construction.
Markowitz said she is confident that the board would find that the deal meets the conditions set within the certificate of public good for the wind project.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding