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Wind project approval upheld

READSBORO – After receiving seven appeals of its decision to approve the 15-turbine wind-powered electricity generation proposal for the Deerfield Wind project in Readsboro and Searsburg, the Green Mountain National Forest announced Tuesday that its decision had been upheld by the U.S. Forest Service.

After the decision was announced in January, opponents had 45 days to submit appeals. Of the seven that were submitted, two were withdrawn after conversations between the appellants and the forest service and one was dismissed because it was filed by a party who had not submitted comments during the public comment periods.

One group of appellants, Vermonters for a Clean Environment, plans to file a formal complaint in U.S. District Court challenging the decision by the U.S. Forest Service. Group members said they had filed an appeal in February which took issue with what they believe were conflicts of interest for decision makers and a failure to adequately address environmental impacts and alternatives.

“We believe the facts are on our side and so we will continue our appeal to the federal court,” said Annette Smith, the group’s executive director, in a statement.

The appeal was decided through the eastern regional office of the U.S. Forest Service and supported a decision made by Green Mountain National Forest Supervisor Colleen Madrid to designate an alternative that would be approved for siting in up to 80 acres of national forest.

The Deerfield Wind facility, which will be next to the Searsburg Wind Facility, is expected to have 15 turbines, about 390 feet tall from the ground to the tip of the blades at their highest point. The facility is expected to generate enough electricity each year to power about 13,000 homes.

The Searsburg wind facility is on private land and operated by the Green Mountain Power Company.

Other alternatives considered by the GMNF included 17 turbines, seven turbines or rejecting the proposal under the “no action” alternative.

Appeals filed in the decision raised concerns about the power generation facility’s potential effects on the habitats of black bears, bats and birds, the level of noise and harm to the visual character of the area. All were issues that were addressed in the original decision as well.

By federal law, the GMNF was required to conduct a National Environmental Policy Act review, which included studies, analysis and several periods of public participation and comment.

In response to appeals made after the decision was announced in January, the GMNF agreed to modify its plans to light the turbines after meetings with representatives of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Green Mountain Club in March. The new plans call for aircraft safety lighting that is activated by radar, if that lighting has been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration at the time the turbines are built.

If the technology is not yet approved, only seven of the turbines will be lit with one red flashing light each to “minimize the impact of the lights.” Once the radar-activated light system is approved, it will be installed within six month.

The GMNF is required by regulation to wait 15 days after the recent decision before taking action but a special permit is expected to be issued to Deerfield and to Central Vermont Public Service so the utility can distribute the electricity.

Deerfield is expected to be the first commercial-scale wind energy project on National Forest land.

Complete documentation of the GMNF decision, with responses to concerns raised about the impact of the project, is posted online at http://data.ecosystem-management.org/nepaweb/fs-usda-pop.php?project=7838