WILMINGTON- The town has appealed the US Forest Service’s decision to approve the construction of 15 wind turbines on two ridgelines on Green Mountain National Forest land in Searsburg and Readsboro.
In an appeal filed on February 24, the town claims the Forest Service failed to consider impacts on soil and water resources as required under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and Vermont Water Quality Standards, key federal and state environmental laws. The town says that the forest clearing and earth moving necessary for the construction of the project could have a substantial adverse impact on soil and water quality, and create an increased risk of flooding. “As proposed, the Deerfield Wind Project may result in increased flood risk in the headwater streams of the Deerfield River which would directly impact the safety and interests of Wilmington.” To illustrate the potential for flood impact, the town included photos of recent flood damage in their appeal.
Wilmington Selectboard member Meg Streeter said the board is fulfilling a mandate handed down by voters at a December 2007 special Town Meeting, where voters approved an article to spend up to $40,000 to fight the issuance of a federal permit for the project. “Which we did,” Streeter notes. “At that point we concentrated on wildlife habitat. We felt we made a compelling case for not destroying habitat for an isolated population of black bears.”
The Forest Service’s Final Environmental Impact Statement approving the project included some mitigation requirements for wildlife habitat, but with their $40,000 expended, the board was unable to press the matter with an appeal. And Streeter says it was apparent that the Forest Service wanted the project built in the Green Mountain National Forest. “They said so in the hearings,” she recalls. “We couldn’t come to voters in good conscience and ask for more money for an appeal.”
In January, however, the board was visited by Andres Torizzo, president of Watershed Consulting Associates. Torizzo was working for Vermonters for a Clean Environment, a group that is mounting an appeal of the Forest Service decision. With VCE’s blessing, Torizzo shared his hydrology study with the town.
Torizzo said that the project planners hadn’t taken into account all of the “impervious surface” they would create, and failed to adequately plan for stormwater runoff. Of particular concern to Wilmington residents, Torizzo said there would be an increase in the volume of runoff during “peak discharge,” the destabilization of streams, erosion and sediment in streams, and an impact on infrastructure. “It’s going to start changing the dynamics and, as you know, you’re at the end of the pipe,” Torizzo said at the time.
The good news for Wilmington was that VCE and other appellants were willing to share their work. “We were able to file the appeal at no cost to the town,” Streeter says.
While the appeal may not derail the project, the town is hoping the impact on Wilmington can be reduced. “The federal government wants this to happen, and it’s going to happen, come hell or high water,” Streeter says. “It would take more money than anyone in Vermont has to fight this.”
In addition to the environmental impact and potential for flooding, Streeter says she’s personally opposed to the project for a number of reasons, ranging from aesthetics to property values. Streeter also agrees with others who oppose the project on philosophical grounds that the Green Mountain National Forest was set aside to preserve forest land for the public. Some of the people who sold or donated land did so because they wanted their land to be part of the public trust. “They didn’t want it to be turned into something else, certainly not an industrialized zone,” Streeter says.
Streeter notes, with irony, that a controversial plan for logging in the nearby Lamb Brook area was vigorously opposed by Forest Watch and other environmental groups. Although logging arguably has less impact on the forest, and may even provide some benefit, many environmental groups have remained silent on the project.
Streeter says that, because there’s a perception that wind energy is “green,” some environmental groups support wind projects on Vermont ridgelines. “We don’t allow anyone else to build on ridgelines above 2,500 feet because of the impact,” she says. “But because wind energy is perceived as good, nobody challenges putting turbines on our ridgelines.”
In their appeal, the town has asked the Forest Service to withdraw their decision on the project and reopen the hearing process. The Forest Service has until Monday, April 9, to respond.