Conservation groups want to clamp more restrictions on the state’s largest commercial wind farm and think that could happen through a state permit review.
Green Mountain Power wants to re-up the stormwater drainage permit on its Kingdom Community Wind project, a collection of 21 wind turbines on Lowell Mountain in Orleans County.
But in recent letters to the Agency of Natural Resources, Vermonters for a Clean Environment and the Maine-based Native Fish Coalition say the new permit should be granted only if the company does a better job of monitoring water quality, is subject to independent inspections and other conditions.
The groups’ concerns particularly focus on wild native brook trout.
Vermonters for a Clean Environment also wants the state agency to hold a public hearing on the permit.
The wind installation – which, as of 2019, generated enough electricity per year to power about 24,000 homes – drew an outcry before it was built in 2012 and created a division between environmental groups and residents.
Conservationists fought the $168 million project, while renewable energy advocates supported it.
In 2010, Lowell residents voted 342-114 to support the Green Mountain Power project, which promised to pay the town $535,000 a year as a result, with increases every five years. Residents have used that money to lower their property taxes.
The facility received a stormwater discharge permit in 2011, and it was renewed administratively in 2016, according to a letter that VHB, an engineering company, sent to state officials Jan. 6 on behalf of Green Mountain Power.
The project discharges stormwater from more than 27 acres of impervious surface – structures and ground cover where water cannot be absorbed. Those areas include gravel crane pads at each turbine, gravel roads and parking areas, and an operations and maintenance building.
Fifty discharge devices divert stormwater west to Lake Champlain from branches of the Missisquoi River, and east to Lake Memphremagog through tributaries of the Black River.
In documents requesting a renewed permit, Green Mountain Power and VHB say the project has continued to meet the conditions of its prior permit.
The application focuses on “minor modifications” made to four-level spreaders, a type of stormwater management device that aims to diffuse and evenly distribute flows by turning runoff water into thin, flat sheets.
Parts of those four-level spreaders sat on protected mitigation lands, the company said. So it relocated them, a move approved by the state last summer.
Green Mountain Power wants to update the details of the permit to reflect those changes.
The changes “eliminate potential conflicts between the operational stormwater management system and lands set aside in support of mitigation goals,” according to application documents. “The alterations of these treatment practices were designed and constructed to maintain the equivalent method of treatment and manner of discharge authorized by the prior permit.”
The company also wants to eliminate a condition of the original permit, which required a study of the level spreader performance. The study was completed in 2018, according to the company, and found that performance met required treatment standards.
Vermonters for a Clean Environment, in a letter April 14 to state officials, acknowledges that the project may indeed be meeting the conditions of its original permit.
But “modifications to this new permit are necessary to protect water quality and comply with current standards,” wrote Annette Smith, the group’s executive director. “The original permit, and this new permit virtually unchanged from the permit issued 10 years ago, enables degradation of Vermont’s water quality.”
In almost 10 years since the project started operating, failures with the stormwater system have been identified during informal visits by experts in the area for recreation, Smith wrote. She cited a failed wet pond, stream channel widening and other stream alterations as a result of the system.
The permit update is an opportunity to address any system failures, Smith wrote.
Vermonters for a Clean Environment and the Native Fish Coalition – in its own letter April 12 – call for changes in monitoring water quality, particularly involving the health of brook trout that live in the small streams around Lowell Mountain. Those fish require the coldest water available.
Smith expressed concern that high-elevation development such as the wind farm results in removal of forest canopy, which can lead to warmer streams.
In the fish organization’s letter, Vermont chapter chair Chris Owen wrote that the project’s current stormwater sampling stations are 1 or 2 miles from the project. Along the way, the water intersects with other stream branches, diluting the discharges and failing to give accurate samples, he wrote.
“In all likelihood, water at or near discharge points is impaired but not properly measured due to dilution of intervening branches of streams farther downslope,” Owen wrote. “There may be many miles of the eight named tributaries where fish populations and aquatic biota have been harmed but not measured.”
Both groups also want water testing and inspections to be done by independent parties, rather than consultants hired by Green Mountain Power.
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