It was an appropriately windy evening on Tuesday, June 16, as about 75 Grafton residents gathered under a tent at Grafton Ponds for an informational session and picnic held by Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd. and Iberdrola Renewables about their proposed wind project.
The two companies are the landowner and developer for the project at Stiles Brook Forest. Three test towers are currently up – on adjacent properties – one in Grafton and two in Windham.
Laura French of Meadowsend said the company is committed to sustainable forestry. She added that the Stiles Brook site had been home to farming, logging and talc mining, and that wind appears to be a “good fit” based on the road systems and power lines on the site.
Most of the time in the information session was taken up by representatives of Iberdrola. Project manager Jenny Briot brought residents up-to-date on the project, saying that three meteorological test towers were set up two years ago to study the area for its suitability to host turbines. Since a wind project could run for up to 25 years, the company was looking for consistency in data across the seasons.
Briot and Don Hammond, regional director of engineering, said that the northern section seems more suitable for the project than the southern, and that Grafton lay in the southwestern section. But, Hammond added, that would not rule out the Grafton portion. He said the land evaluation process includes how close the turbines could be to Velco power lines, the location of a substation to power lines and to the wind turbines, current roads at the site and how the wind power would fit into the regional power grid. A full boundary and structure survey had yet to be completed and to better understand the terrain aerial photography would be conducted in the spring or fall, he said. Hammond said Iberdrola is working through the process but still has a long way to go.
Mike Clayton, a member of the Iberdrola’s environmental and permits team, said that studies on bird breeding grounds, raptors and bats are in process and had been planned in collaboration with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. He could not give a time when the studies would be complete for public viewing.
According to Clayton, other studies would include surveys for rare and endangered plant species, winter habitats of deer, moose and bear, archaeology and buildings and wetlands and steams.
Members of the audience asked about the project’s economic benefits, impact on town roads and potential sound and health issues. When asked if local labor would be used if the project moved forward, company representatives said that experts would be hired for the project but would look to work with local contractors. Iberdrola is expecting to create 200 or more jobs during the site build with five or six permanent ones on completion.
When a concern was raised regarding moving large equipment to the site, a representative said that routes would be planned based on where the turbines would arrive from. Four or five turbines would arrive each week and – with the current projection of 20 to 30 turbines – the impact would be for four to seven weeks. One audience member asked about a lawsuit regarding sound issues at Iberdrola’s site in Herkimer County, N.Y. Iberdrola representatives would only say that the company was working with the public and permitting to address the issue.
Paul Copleman of Iberdrola said the company planned to have another meeting in the fall to provide additional information including a possible layout of the turbines, visual assessment and proposed economic benefits to the community. Copleman also confirmed that the company would seek approval from Grafton voters to move forward with the completion of the project. That vote maybe called as early as the fall of 2016.
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