ANR Grants Permits to Lowell Wind Project
LOWELL - The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources has issued permits for the Lowell Wind Project.The agency announced Friday the release of five environmental permits to Green Mountain Power Inc. for the construction and operation of a wind powered electric generating facility on Lowell Mountain. The project, known as Kingdom Community Wind (KCW), includes the installation of an access road and 21 wind turbines along the ridgeline and upgrade of a related transmission line.The permits issued by the agency include: two stormwater permits for construction of the access road and wind farm and the associated transmission line; a state stormwater operational permit for control of stormwater discharges from impervious surfaces constructed at the site; a state wetlands permit for work in wetlands, including required mitigation activities; and a water quality certification pursuant to Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act, issued in connection with the Section 404 permit issued for the project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.The agency stated it is protecting water quality through the issuance of all these permits by requiring that the applicant implement stormwater controls that will minimize the impacts on streams. Scientists from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) stormwater section, wetlands section, rivers section, and biomonitoring section, and biologists from the Department of Fish and Wildlife have evaluated the impacts of the project and recommended changes to the project, and conditions in the 401 certification, to ensure that existing mountain hydrology is adequately protected. The agency has determined that the Vermont Water Quality Standards (VWQS) will be met, and overall mountain hydrology will be maintained.In issuing these permits, the agency has included several findings and conditions that were not in the draft permits, in particular draft 401. These findings and conditions were the result of the agency’s review of public comments and its own internal review of the draft permit. Highlights of the findings and conditions that have been added or altered include:The agency has included a detailed description of the monitoring program it is requiring the applicant to initiate in the 401 Certification. The monitoring program includes seven streams and shall run for a minimum of five years.The 401 Certification sets forth a process that the agency will follow if monitoring shows deterioration in water quality. This process is consistent with monitoring conditions that the agency has applied to ski resorts in 401 certifications and Act 250 permits. The process will enable the agency to intervene early if water quality problems arise and provides additional assurance that the project will not result in a reduction in existing water quality.Several public comments asked the agency to utilize baseline data and impose detailed monitoring conditions on the applicant. Public comments indicate without baseline data the agency could not know if the project was having an adverse effect on water quality. In response to these comments, the agency has decided to use baseline biological data submitted by the applicant, which has been accepted following a thorough review by the agency to confirm the reliability of the data. The agency has added geomorphic (physical) water quality monitoring and temperature monitoring (which relates in particular to downstream impacts on fisheries), consistent with public comments.The agency received numerous public comments on the permits, and in particular on the 401. The Responsiveness Summary for the 401 addresses these comments in depth. Some of the issues addressed in the Responsiveness Summary are listed below.In response to the comment that the agency should treat the KCW project as stringently as we have addressed water quality impacts from ski areas, particularly with regard to monitoring and riparian buffer protection, the agency has issued 401s to ski areas in the past for intensive development of headwater areas based in the imposition of stormwater controls and monitoring programs to assure that water quality is not adversely affected. This is the exact same approach that the agency has taken in issuing the KCW water quality permits. The monitoring program imposed on GMP to protect high quality waters is more restrictive than any program required of any Vermont ski area to date.With regard to riparian buffers (vegetated areas adjacent to streams that protect water quality), consistent with the agency’s approach with ski areas, the agency is requiring that riparian buffers be maintained except where stream crossings necessitate buffer encroachment or ephemeral streams are proposed to be culverted. However, this project differs from ski area projects in that the opportunities are for riparian buffer protection rather than restoration. At ski areas, there have been decades of intensive development that provide opportunities for riparian buffer and other water quality restoration. In the case of the KCW project, while the same extensive restoration opportunities do not exist, the applicant has been required to improve conditions on existing logging roads so that the disturbed areas will be better able to handle stormwater generated by the project.In a response to comments about headwater streams, the agency notes that the design of the project protects headwater streams, including intermittent streams, in order to minimize the hydrologic changes. In response to comments that the stormwater controls are not sufficient to protect water quality, the agency disagrees with comments that stormwater practices required by the permits will not work or that the agency has underestimated the volume of stormwater that will be generated by the project. The Responsiveness Summary provides a detailed explanation for why the agency disagrees with these comments based on its detailed technical analysis. In response to comments that the agency is allowing too much land to be disturbed at one time during construction, creating a high risk of discharges that will degrade waters: as explained in the Responsiveness Summary, the agency included conditions in the construction stormwater permits to minimize the area authorized for disturbance at one time, and has placed additional checks on the applicant, such as greater stabilization requirements and additional over sight beyond what the agency typically requires in construction permits.For questions, contact Jon Groveman at 802-249-7736. For supporting documents, visit http://www.vtwaterquality.org/kingdomwind.htm or call 802-241-3600.