The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources supports the conservation of nearly 1,700 acres near the Lowell ridgeline as part of mitigation for the Lowell wind project.
Two separate easements negotiated between Green Mountain Power, the Vermont Land Trust and Echo Forestry in Eden were announced in early December – a critical condition required by state regulators before the end of the year.
The fragment-conservation easements cost GMP more than $1 million. They create a wildlife corridor along the mountain range from the Green River Reservoir State Park all the way to the Atlas Timberlands parcel near Albany. The easements allow the forestry company to continue logging and sugaring under state guidelines.
“Generally speaking, ANR recognizes GMP’s effort in securing easements on the properties identified as ANR’s first choice to address the fragmentation impacts of the [Lowell wind] project and that, as a result, approximately 1,700 acres of land will be conserved,” wrote ANR attorney Jon Groveman to the Vermont Public Service Board.
The board now has to consider the fragment-conservation easements, along with the other land protections already in place, to decide if the mitigations meet the conditions that the board wanted in place by Dec. 31.
GMP asked the board to rule on the issue before the end of the year to allow ongoing work on the wind site to continue. The easements deal is done, so any changes required by the board would have to be negotiated after the fact. GMP officials hope the board would allow construction to continue while changes to the deal are made if necessary.
The access road from Route 100 to the ridgeline is substantially complete and all storm water systems are in their permanent location, according to GMP.
Clearing along the planned crane path has nearly reached its north and south limits. Blasting operations are continuing, as well as construction of the crane path.
“More than one-third of the excavation and construction of the crane path and turbine pad areas are either complete or in progress,” GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said.
“The wind farm remains on schedule for completion by the end of 2012.”
That would allow GMP to secure federal tax credits worth $45 million, which otherwise sunset at the end of next year for wind projects.
The two conservation easements in Eden protect two parcels, a 959-acre parcel north of East Hill Road and a 729-acre parcel to the south.
“ANR selected these two parcels as the most important that we could identify for maintaining ecological connectivity between the Lowell Mountain habitat block [29,683 acres] and Green River Reservoir Habitat block [21,583 acres],” wrote ANR community ecologist Eric Sorenson, in a memo filed with the Public Service Board.
The new easements stop new development on about 3,000 feet on both sides of East Hill Road in Eden, creating a corridor.
“These easements do not increase the degree of landscape connectivity; they help to reduce future decreases in this area,” Sorenson wrote.
Sorenson said the two new easements must be taken as part of the package of conservation that ANR and GMP worked out this year.
“The Kingdom Community Wind Project in Lowell will result in significant fragmentation of wildlife habitat and natural communities along the Lowell Mountain ridgeline,” Sorenson wrote. “It is important to note that by themselves these two easements do not adequately offset the fragmentation impacts of the project, nor were they intended to.
“Instead, … the easements are an integral part of a suite of mitigation and restoration measures needed to help offset the fragmentation impacts of the project,” Sorenson wrote.
“Mitigation in the form of conservation easements can ensure long-term protection of the ecological functions of the lands conserved, but easements alone cannot replace the lost habitat, natural communities or ecological functions,” he wrote.
“Ecological connectivity relates to the ability of species and ecological processes to move across the landscape … Maintaining ecological connectivity is one way to mitigate for the adverse effects of habitat fragmentation on wildlife population and biological diversity.”
Sorenson also said that connectivity helps wildlife adapt to climate change.
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