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Sheffield wind farm opponents critical of ANR, First Wind reports on stream impacts

SHEFFIELD – Opponents of the 16-turbine industrial scale wind farm which opened here in October are critical of First Wind, the wind farm owner, and its take on a recent report on stream quality since the wind farm opened, which was made public last week by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

In a statement this week, Energize Vermont, a non-profit which advocates for “renewable energy solutions that are in harmony with the irreplaceable character of Vermont” criticized First Wind’s interpretation of the scientific data.

The group was harsh against both the ANR and First Wind, stating the two had “cherry picked” the data gathered by a scientist to measure stream marine quality before the wind farm went in, and after.

“While this two page memo (ANR’s report) states that the streams are in good condition, the memo does not definitively state that there has been no impact,” stated the Energize Vermont news release.

“The data can only be considered credible if it has the right number and location of sampling events pre- and post construction, correct proximity to the points of discharge, and consistent quality assurance and quality control,” stated hydrologist Geogg Goll from Princeton Hydro, who is quoted in Energize Vermont’s news release.

Goll is further quoted, stating, “This memo does not provide enough detail to determine the overall quality of the data, however, the distance downstream of sampling stations from the project location of a mile or more and the fact that the sampling stations include influence from non-project watersheds leave me skeptical.”

Opponents of the wind farm unsuccessfully fought First Wind in court over storm water permits, arguing they were not sufficient to protect the environment at the site.

Sutton resident Paul Brouha, who fought the wind farm and is a certified fisheries biologist, questioned the report’s data based on the sampling locations.

“The sample locations were a minimum of a mile (with some closer to two miles) from the area of direct land disturbance and not even close to the headwater streams,” he said. “Locations were chosen that included tributary stream contributions from subwatersheds that were not within the wind farm’s area of influence. The Agency’s approach seems to be ‘the solution to pollution is dilution,” he said.

Former Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Steve Wright also lent his voice to the Energize Vermont news release this week, stating in it, “This sampling approach seems to pretend the upper regions don’t exist.”

According to Brouha, “We are requesting the data this ANR report is based on. The data were not made available during the appeal of the stormwater permit to the Vermont Environmental Court. The construction-caused impacts (erosion and sedimentation) may have been masked by the high intensity spring rain-on-snow events followed by the floods associated with Tropical Storm Irene. These events would have served to flush these high-gradient headwater systems of fine sediments (and invertebrates).”

“The fine sediments would have been carried downstream and deposited in stream reaches near Lyndonville and in Crystal Lake where they would increase flood risk and smother bottom-dwelling insects,” said Brouha. “The effects of those flood events overwhelmed what impacts might have been observed from project construction in stream sections just below the construction site in more normal years.”

Of the criticism levied against First Wind, company spokesman John Lamontagne said on Thursday, “We worked very hard to protect the water resources near the Sheffield Wind project, and the results of the independent tests conducted by the state demonstrate we were successful. Despite the claims of clean energy opponents, wind projects can be built in a way that protects natural resources while delivering clean energy. At Sheffield, we’ve done that.”