Former Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, a commercial airline pilot with 39 years of flying experience, is once again advocating standards that would restrict development of wind turbines within a certain distance of aircraft take-off or landing paths.
He pointed out a need for new regulations when a wind turbine project was proposed for Suzie’s Peak in Ira six years ago when he was lieutenant governor. That project has since failed to win approval.
Recently, in a commentary submitted to the Rutland Herald, Dubie advocated new state standards contained within a 2010 Vermont House bill that failed to pass.
Dubie has since reflected on the reasons why he would raise the issue again after a six-year lapse.
“I’m not aware of any turbines proposed along ridge lines until just recently. I was contacted by residents of Fairfield who became aware that they had a wind turbine in their backyard and asked if I could help. I’m the founder and a leader of Vermont Aerospace and Aviation Association, and I have a son and a nephew who fly in and out of Franklin County’s airport. As a long-time pilot, I had to respond, although currently at the end of the day, Federal Aviation Administration makes the determination.”
Rep. David Potter, from Clarendon, vice chairman of the Vermont House Committee on Transportation and retired veteran of the Vermont Air National Guard, sponsored the Airport Hazard Area bill in 2010.
This legislation proposed to define an airport hazard area as 10 miles from an airport and prohibit the construction of anything that is found by the Federal Aviation Administration to be an obstruction or hazard
— including anything that is more than 100 feet tall, interferes with radar or navigation equipment and restricts established procedures for takeoff or landing.
As such, it was a more restrictive approach to development around an airport than federal regulations currently provide.
Michele Boomhower, director of Policy Planning and Intermodal Transportation for Vermont Agency of Transportation, said the AOT “had no involvement,” in the bill, “since the Federal Aviation Administration had no official concerns with the Ira proposal.”
The project did not meet criteria for FAA review, since a meteorological testing tower that the developers erected on Suzie’s Peak was no taller than 199 feet above the ground and the proposed site was not within 20,000 feet” – or 3.8 miles – “of a runway.”
The project was withdrawn by developer Per White-Han sen, said Annette Smith executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment because of local opposition to the project. Neighbors in Ira and Clarendon were concerned about noise levels and the imposing presence of large towers near their property.
The merits of FAA stan dards versus the standards of Potter’s bill are still unresolved, but on the table because of other large turbine project proposals near airports in the state and could receive further consideration this year.
“Placing 500-foot-tall obstacles on top of a ridge-line within 10 miles of an airport is a bad idea,” Dubie wrote in the commentary. “The wind turbines proposed for Ira would have created an obstacle course.”
Tom Donahue, executive vice president and CEO of Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce, said development near airports is important as well as protecting the safety of air traffic.
“If it passes muster with the Federal Aviation Administration, we’re in favor of such development,” he said.
Dubie, Vermont’s lieutenant governor from 2003 to 2011, is chairman of the Vermont Aerospace and Aviation Association, a division of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce. It is in his current official capacity that he is seeking to influence the 2016 legislative agenda in Montpelier.
“I’ve worked through channels to get key people to consider the Potter bill’s approach, including forwarding my opinion to the Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Dick Mazza the committee’s chair, and the concept to Governor Shumlin and Darren Springer the governor’s chief of staff, as well as Representative David Potter,” said Dubie about his recent contacts on the issue.
“I don’t know where they will go with my commentary and opinion,” Dubie said about his efforts. “I don’t count myself as against wind power. But I know that the state’s goals for alternative wind power generation implies many miles of siting along ridge lines, some within reach of an airport. As a father, I’ll feel better knowing that I raised the question.”
Potter said recently he doesn’t intend to re-introduce this bill or one that is similar.
“It won’t be introduced by me,” Potter said. “The Ira project in my district is now moot.”
But Potter said even without turbines on ridgelines in his district, the mountains are a problem.
“Suzie’s Peak and Herrick Mountain (both in Ira) pose particular problems for air traffic without a 400-foot turbine atop them. Years ago, maybe the 1970s, a private aircraft crashed into Suzie’s Peak.”
Smith said her organization was part of the opposition to the Ira proposal.
“White-Hansen, proposed a dozen turbines atop Suzie’s Peak, which straddles the Ira-Clarendon town line.”
Smith said Suzie’s Peak still has debris from a private plane crash.
She recalled that the normal approach for incoming aircraft to Rutland-Southern Vermont Regional Airport is from the north.
“However, if planes need to make a second approach for any reason, they must circle to the west over Suzie’s Peak. That’s where the developer wanted to place his turbines.”
Joe Giancola of Rutland, a longtime resident and veteran private pilot, echoed Smith’s understanding of the hazards of a secondary approach to Rutland-Southern Vermont Regional Airport over Suzie’s Peak, requiring a quick climb before re-approaching a landing by circling and coming from the north.
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