The Town of Grafton hosted a recent a forum on hydrology to discuss water run-off issues tied to the proposed Grafton/Windham wind turbine project.
The panel included John Bennett, senior planner of the Windham Regional Planning Commission; Windham District-4 State Representative David Deen, who is chairman of the Legislature’s Committee on Fish, Wildlife and Water; Princeton Hydrology Vice President Geoff Goll; Kevin Burke of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation Stormwater Program; Billy Coster of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources; and Jeffrey Nelson, environmental consultant and head of Energy and Environmental Services for Vanasse Hangen Brustlin.
Vermont Board of Civil Authority Chairman Christopher Wallace was moderator for the forum.
Rep. Deen spoke on the local control issue, and said he is a river steward who pays close attention to stormwater and its effect on the Connecticut River.
Kevin Burke informed the audience that the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation is normally approached for consultation two years before a major project application is submitted.
He said his agency supervises and gathers information to give the best recommendation to the Vermont Public Service Commission, which will ultimately vote on whether to grant a construction permit to the wind power project
The developer of the Windham wind project still has to gather data for the agency before an official permit is given, Burke said.
The Public Service Commission looks at whether a project will create undue adverse impact to the environment. This decision is based off data given to the agency, Burke said.
Goll pointed out that the wind turbines are a big construction project. Cranes are needed to build the wind turbines, cranes and trucks need roads to haul equipment and supplies up the mountain, and if there aren’t roads they have to be built.
To construct the turbine pads, rock has to be blasted to make room, Goll said.
Once construction starts, the hydrology of a mountain is forever changed, he said. Stream channels have to be intercepted, which will affect the residents of Grafton and Windham.
Nelson showed on the map that the Willy Brook and Saxtons River watersheds are where most of the wind turbines will be located.
Level spreaders are one way to handle the water run-off from the site, Nelson said. The spreaders’ purpose is to handle the run-off in small amounts, keeping the water near the site. Having many of them around the mountain helps to protect the hydrology of the mountain, he said.
A level spreader is an erosion control device designed to reduce water pollution by mitigating the impact of high-velocity stormwater surface runoff.
The project will have to be designed for water increase during peak flooding season, Nelson said.
The run-off in either wet ponds or the level spreaders is subject to water quality monitoring. Monitoring sites are selected at different elevations around the mountain to accurately sample the biology of the streams.
Someone asked how the wet ponds or level spreaders keep the water cold, since it is standing water unless it rains heavily.
Lowell Mountain had temperature monitors in place and the results are showing no significant change in temperature. It is not anticipated that keeping the run-off cold will create a large issue for the rivers and marine life, officials said.
Maintenance of the level spreaders or wet ponds was another concern brought up at the forum. For a permit to be granted to the developer by the agency, these sites have to be maintained by the company doing the project.
Another query was on decommissioning a site when it’s no longer used. A company must prove they have the decommission funds available before getting a permit to begin construction is given.
Grafton is a flood-prone town, according to some in the audience, and in the past 20 years has experienced three very destructive floods.
Some residents thought adding more cleared and compacted land for the wind project could increase the chances of severe flooding.
Iberdrola Renewables’ plan to build turbines in the 5,000-acre Stiles Brook Forest has been underway for four years. Iberdrola and property owner Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd. say there would be 28 turbines capable of generating 96.6 megawatts of power.
Twenty of the turbines would be built in Windham, and eight in Grafton.
Windham is holding a Nov. 8 public referendum on the project during the general election.
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