MONTPELIER – Nearly a year after the Lowell wind turbines began producing electricity, opponents were still fighting the project – this time taking their case to the state Supreme Court on Thursday.
Thursday’s case focused on an argument that the state Agency of Natural Resources should not have granted project developer Green Mountain Power Corp. permits that allows the company to use an alternative method of managing stormwater runoff from the mountain where 21 turbines are installed.
The five-member Supreme Court heard arguments from each side and is expected to make a ruling at a later date.
Nathan Stearns, a lawyer representing the group Energize Vermont, told the court in a 30-minute hearing that the Agency of Natural Resources did not follow the standard stormwater management when it permitted Green Mountain Power to install level-spreader drainage instead of traditional 12-hour retention ponds.
The technique Green Mountain Power used allows runoff to go into a long ditch lined with boulders. The water sits in the ditch, allowing silt to filter to the bottom while additional runoff goes overtop into vegetation. Periodically, the silt is removed.
Geoffrey Hand, a lawyer for Green Mountain Power, spoke for both the utility and the Agency of Natural Resources in defending the technique. He argued that state law gives the agency discretion to allow non-standard techniques and that the method used meets the state’s requirements for managing stormwater.
Hand noted that the agency monitors the stormwater drainage from Lowell Mountain regularly. Stearns countered that monitoring will merely allow the agency to detect damage after the fact, too late to prevent harm to the environment. He asked the court to revoke the permits.
Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for Clean Environment, which opposes the turbines, said the drainage is not working properly, as she and others have observed water making new channels as it comes off the mountain. The technique was not intended for use on steep slopes, she said.
Green Mountain Power spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure, who attended Thursday’s court hearing, said afterward that the stormwater drainage is working properly and ANR inspections have backed that assertion. She said the drainage technique took up less acreage than traditional stormwater retention ponds would have, meaning the project had less impact on the environment. The technique was not used to save money, she said, as it was actually more expensive than traditional drainage.
Green Mountain Power installed 21 turbines atop Lowell Mountain, finishing the project last December. Some neighbors and advocacy groups have tried to fight the project on numerous fronts, each time running into a wall.
Opponents were unable to dissuade the state Public Service Board from approving the project on the grounds that it would harm the ecology and wildlife of the mountain and its streams. Opponents have also been unable to persuade the board that the turbines are louder than permitted.
Last week, the state Supreme Court denied an appeal by six protesters who were arrested while the turbines were under construction.
Still pending is a dispute over the location of the property boundary, as opponents Don and Shirley Nelson argue they own some of the land Green Mountain Power is leasing from a neighbor for the project.
Matt Levin, spokesman for Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said opponents would have challenged more elements of the project if they had the money. They focused their efforts on the stormwater permits on the grounds that if the Agency of Natural Resources is allowed discretion in its approval of stormwater management, the agency will have too much latitude.
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