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New stage begins in Northeast Kingdom wind development

The battle over wind energy development in the Northeast Kingdom enters a new phase this week as regulators consider appeals of environmental permits.

The hearings start with a site visit to Green Mountain Power’s Lowell wind project. And one of the first issues to be decided is how much of the site will be available for inspection.

The hearings mark the first time that appeals of environmental permits for wind projects will be heard by the Public Service Board, rather than the state environmental court. The board reviews utility developments, and it’s already approved the Lowell project. The Legislature decided to consolidate the appeals in one place in order to streamline the process.

But opponents of Green Mountain Power’s 21-turbine development are wary of the board’s review. Steve Wright is from Craftsbury. The town has appealed state stormwater permits for the project.

“There’s been no public input, no open door policy of hearing the professional arena as well as concerned citizens on how these judgments will be made,” he said.

The appeals challenge whether the storm water control systems protect the upland streams in the area from silt and runoff during heavy rains and snow melt.

The three-member PSB will visit the Lowell site on Tuesday. And Wright says one preliminary point of contention is how much of the area GMP will make available to look at.

“They’re controlling the areas to be visited, and GMP has had plenty of time to go up and carry out any sort of repair work that they need to do if they’re cherry-picking those sites,” he said.

GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure says a rough road along the ridgeline on the south side of the project could limit access to that area.

But she says the company has nothing to hide, and that the board can look at anything it wants to.

“We will actually be taking the Public Service Board and showing them every type of installation on the site,” she says. “We won’t be able to physically look at every single installation, because that does take two days to physically go to every section of the site.”

Some of the erosion controls were damaged during a torrential storm on May 29 that dumped about five inches of rain on the Lowell ridgeline. But a state inspection found that the stormwater system worked adequately to control the run-off, considering the magnitude of the event.

Schnure says the May storm resulted in a plugged a culvert, but overall the system is working well.

“We haven’t had a lot of rain this summer… The event we had last week – we had an inch and a half of rain in two hours, and we had no problems,” she says. “It performed very well.”

The PSB hearings this week will focus on testimony from the state, GMP’s hydrology consultant, and a stormwater expert hired by project opponents.