GRAFTON – The mountain ridges surrounding Grafton should be developed carefully because of the town’s vulnerability to flooding, a Pennsylvania engineer told a forum on the impacts of wind projects Friday night.
Geoff Goll, the principal engineer of Princeton Hydro, Exton, Pa., said that it is very difficult to control stormwater runoff from steep terrain, and he said that the measures currently being employed often don’t work.
Goll was the main speaker at an event organized by Vermonters for a Clean Environment, which is working closely with the anti-wind group Friends of Grafton’s Heritage to explore the ramifications of a wind facility that is under consideration by Iberdrola Renewables, a subsidiary of a Spanish energy conglomerate.
Goll said that damage to high elevation headwaters was particularly difficult to control, and he noted that the land in question contained the headwaters of the Saxtons River, as well as three brooks, Howe, Willie and Stiles brooks.
He said roads and trails would need to be built to the turbine sites themselves, creating impervious surfaces, which increases runoff and pollution. At the Lowell Mountain wind project in the Northeast Kingdom, he said, 2.7 miles of road was built, along with a four-mile “crane path,” adding to the impervious land and increasing runoff on the steep mountain. In all, he said, Lowell created 27 acres of impervious land, and total disturbance of the mountain totalled 135 acres.
Liisa Kissel, spokeswoman for Friends of Grafton’s Heritage, said that Grafton had a history of flooding, even before Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011.
In Grafton alone the damage from Irene totaled $5.1 million, according to the revised Grafton Town Plan. Significant floods have also occurred in April 2007, August 2004, August 2003, 1996 and 1976 and 1973, in addition to historic statewide events in September 1938 and November 1927.
“The best place for water is where it is,” said Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.
Iberdrola has leased land in Grafton and neighboring Windham and put up three meteorological towers to measure the wind on land owned by a New Hampshire timber company, Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd. of New London, N.H. One tower is in Grafton, the other two in Windham.
Earlier Grafton forums have focused on the impacts of the turbines’ noise, and the impact that the tall, lighted wind towers and turbines have on real estate prices.
One real estate agent, Robert McCafferty of LandVest, gave one example Friday of a high-end property in Londonderry that sold for $750,000 less than its original value because of the threat of a wind facility being sited on the top of Glebe Mountain in Londonderry and Windham. That project was abandoned several years ago by its developer, Catamount Energy, a former subsidiary of Central Vermont Public Service.
McCafferty said the home on Under the Mountain Road was “very upscale,” and valued at $2.2 million, but ended up being sold for the family for $1.5 million. He said the family was eager to move to Connecticut after health problems in the family.
“People don’t come to Vermont to look at wind farms,” said McCafferty, and he added they don’t come to hear the noise from wind farms as well.
Smith said that the farm closest to the Kingdom Community Wind project of Green Mountain Power in Lowell had been listed for sale at $1.5 million, but the Nelson family was forced to drop its price to $1.25 million, and still hasn’t been able to sell it. “Since the wind project, there’s been no interest,” Smith reported.
Much of the concern in tourist-dependent Grafton focuses on the impact of real estate values, and whether the sound of the proposed turbines would be heard in the village, approximately three miles away, as well as the aesthetics of the towers, which are close to 500 feet tall.
Friends of Grafton’s Heritage also announced that it was mailing a flier to all Grafton property owners Monday, contesting claims made in a similar flier from Meadowsend earlier this winter, regarding the possible tax advantages to Grafton from a wind facility.
Steve Wright of Craftsbury, a former Vermont Fish and Wildlife commissioner and one of the panel speakers, said he hoped the rest of Vermont – and communities like Grafton – would learn from the mistakes in the Northeast Kingdom wind projects. Wright said he believed that a construction project the size and scope of the Lowell Mountain project wouldn’t be allowed by state regulators. But it did gain all necessary permits, he said.
“That’s why I came down here. Let’s learn from our stupidity,” said Wright.
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