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Lowell wind: it’s full speed ahead for GMP

State regulators gave the all-clear to a plan to conserve nearly 1,700 acres in compensation for loss of habitat from the Lowell wind project.

The decision by the Vermont Public Service Board means that Green Mountain Power can continue to construct the Lowell wind project into the New Year.

GMP had until Saturday to prove that it had created a fragmentation-conservation easement that would satisfy a key condition of its certificate of public good to build the wind project.

GMP filed documents earlier this month confirming that it had paid more than $1 million for two different easements on the western side of the Lowell ridgeline. The easements satisfied the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. The easements connect the Green River Reservoir State Park with the Atlas Timberlands near Albany, creating a wildlife corridor.

Logging and sugaring are allowed on part of the parcels, both now owned by Echo Forestry in Eden, while the Vermont Land Trust now owns the development rights to the two parcels.

“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 easements are part of a larger mitigation package including other lands near the wind site.

An attorney for the towns of Albany and Craftsbury complained that there wasn’t enough time to respond to the easement deal and sought delays. He also questioned whether forestry and sugaring should be allowed.

The Public Service Board was not moved by the towns’ arguments, although agreed that a map should be filed to show the delineations of the easements.

“We approve the proposed easements and direct GMP to file a map showing the location and property boundaries of the conserved parcels,” board members James Volz, David Coen and John Burke wrote.

They noted that the primary purpose of the easements was to conserve connectivity between wildlife habitats. However, they said that other purposes were to conserve forestry resources and the essential characteristics of the Vermont countryside.

“Based on ANR’s analysis, we are satisfied that the easements meet the requirements of Condition 17,” the board wrote.

Board members did require GMP to file a map within seven days of the ruling, which was handed down Dec. 23.

GMP officials said Wednesday they would provide a map.

“If the map indicates any inconsistencies with the description and representation in ANR’s comments, we will be prepared to revisit this issue, including the potential for an order directing GMP to cease construction pending resolution of any issues that are identified,” the board wrote.

“We do not agree with the towns that any additional process is warranted. ANR has reviewed and approved the parcels and the terms and conditions of the easements and concluded that they meet the requirements,” the board wrote.

“The proposed easements are approved and GMP may continue construction beyond Dec. 31,” the board wrote.

Once the map is filed, the parties have seven days to comment on it, the board concluded.

GMP is expected to continue construction into the New Year while weather conditions allow, completing most of the work on the crane path and developing some of the 21 turbine sites.

The rest of the work would continue in the spring after snow melts and roads dry up.

The utility wants to have the turbines up and running before the end of 2012, in time to secure federal production tax credits worth $45 million which expire at the end of the year.