Environmentalists sued the U.S. Forest Service to try to stop a wind farm that would put 15 turbines 389 feet tall atop “pristine mountain ridgelines” in the Green Mountain National Forest.
Vermonters for a Clean Environment sued the Forest Supervisor of the Green Mountain National Forest, the project coordinator of the Deerfield Wind Project and other officials, to try to stop the project the Forest Service approved near the Southern Vermont towns of Searsburg and Readsboro.
The area is in south central Vermont, in dense forests near ski country.
Vermont has a strict law governing ridgeline developments, but the plaintiffs based their complaint on federal laws, alleging violations of the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.
The plaintiffs say the project would hurt habitat for black bears and neo-tropical songbirds, as shown by the nearly 400 “bear-scarred” beech trees, whose nuts are a primary food source for bears. The turbines would be just a mile from the George D. Aiken Wilderness. The environmentalists say the massive fan blades would kill four species of bats that are threatened or endangered in Vermont, including the little brown bat, which has been devastated by white-nose syndrome.
“The proposed Deerfield Wind Project consists of 15 wind turbines, each of which would be 389 feet tall and 16 feet in diameter at its concrete base, to be constructed on currently pristine mountain ridgelines on either side of Vermont Route 8 in the Vermont Towns of Searsburg and Readsboro,” the complaint states.
“On or about January 3, 2012, the Forest Service issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision, selecting Alternative Two, ‘Reduced Turbines in the Western Project Site,’ which would permit the authorization (by agency issuance of a special use permit) and use of the Green Mountain National Forest for the installation of a wind turbine facility.
“Plaintiffs Vermonters for a Clean Environment, Inc., Justin Lindholm, and Thomas Shea separately and timely filed administrative appeals seeking to overturn the Forest Service’s decision. They requested that the Forest Service abandon the project entirely, and in the alternative, that it further study the environmental impacts of the wind turbines before proceeding further.
“The Forest Service denied the administrative appeals on April 9, 2012. Plaintiffs have exhausted their administrative remedies and now seek this Court’s intervention to enjoin the issuance of the special use permit and construction of the wind turbine facility.
“The ridgelines in question range in elevation from 2,750 to 3,100 feet above sea level. To construct the project, the developer would have to blast away the ridge-tops and pave over a large forested area. The amount of blasting necessary would be extensive; the Forest Service has estimated the soil depth on the ridgelines at less than 40 inches. According to the Agency, the cuts needed for construction would be up to 25 feet in depth, and the turbine pads would be buried to a depth of seven to ten feet.
“During the construction phase, approximately 4.45 miles of new roads and 1.03 miles of ‘improved’ roads would be built. The roads would be up to 36 feet wide to accommodate tractor trailers, heavy equipment, and the wind towers and turbines themselves. Road grading on the sides of the roads would range from five to ten feet, with additional clearing of trees 20 to 30 feet on each side, for a total maximum possible width of 106 feet. A total of 46.2 acres would be cleared.
“To comply with Federal Aviation Administration rules, seven of the wind turbines would be artificially illuminated at night with blinking lights, thereby substantially increasing their visibility from surrounding areas.
“If constructed, this would be the first time that a privately owned and operated wind turbine project will have been authorized and built on publicly owned lands administered by the Forest Service. The developers, Deerfield Wind, LLC and its parent, Iberdrola Renewables, Inc., as well as Iberdrola Renewables’ parent, Ibedrola, SA, would be the immediate primary beneficiaries of the project. Iberdrola, SA, which is based in Spain, is the fourth-largest utility company in the world by market capitalization. In 2011, Iberdrola, SA recorded a gross operating profit of more than 7.65 billion euros.
“The Deerfield Wind project area includes the Lamb Brook area, which is located on the east side of Vermont Route 8. Lamb Brook was the subject of earlier litigation in this Court in a related case, National Audubon Society v. Hoffman, Civil Action No. 5:94 cv 160. In 1995, this Court issued an injunction, which is still in place, prohibiting the Forest Service from timber-cutting and road-building in Lamb Brook.”
The environmentalists add: “Sections of the FEIS [final environmental impact statement] are directly plagiarized from studies submitted by the Deerfield Wind Project developer’s consultants to the PSB. In this and in other ways set forth infra, the NEPA process was rigged to favor a predetermined outcome: the proposal favored by the developer and approved by a divided PSB [Public Service Board] vote.”
The environmental impact statement estimated that only 1 million bats have died from white-nose syndrome, though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service puts the number at 6 million deaths, the plaintiffs say. They also say the EIS underestimated the noise from the turbines, though “the truth is that the turbines have a mechanical sound very similar to that of jet engines.”
The plaintiffs want the approval enjoined and the matter remanded to the Forest Service for a better environmental study, if the Forest Service insists on going ahead with it.
They are represented by Patrick Bernal and Stephen Saltonstall, of Manchester Center.
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