LOWELL, VT - Work on Green Mountain Power's (GMP) controversial Lowell Mountain wind turbine project will continue through the winter, although some of the activity will subside and pick up again in the spring. The lack of snowfall has allowed for some of the construction work to continue further than expected.
Road building, blasting and excavation continue along the ridgeline, according to Dorothy (Dotty) Schnure with GMP. Concrete foundation work began this week on the collector substation, which is located halfway up the access road on Lowell Mountain. Construction of the collector substation on the mountain will continue. In addition crews are preparing to set poles for the overhead collector line, which will carry power from the underground electric lines on the ridge to the substation.
The project involves the construction of 21 industrial size turbines and upgrades to the Vermont Electric Cooperative transmission system between Jay and Lowell.
GMP has all necessary pre-construction permits and has met all required pre-construction conditions placed on it by state regulators.
One of the requirements set by the Public Service Board (PSB) was to obtain easements of "adequate size and location" to address fragmentation of habitat caused by the project. The wind project impacts 159 acres on the Lowell Mountains. In late December, the PSB approved GMP's proposal to conserve approximately 1,600 acres of wildlife habitat in Eden.
"The conserved land provides for important habitat to offset the overall project effects and provides connectivity to other conserved lands. This level of mitigation is unprecedented in Vermont,” said Mary Powell, President and CEO of GMP in a written statement.
In addition to the two parcels just approved for conservation in Eden, GMP has also conserved approximately 1,070 acres on Lowell Mountain. Of these acres, 778 acres will be conserved in perpetuity (forever) and another 292 acres will be conserved for the life of project plus 25 years.
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources attorney Jon Groveman, in a letter filed with the PSB, said the conserved land on either side of East Hill Road helps maintain the ecological and landscape connectivity that currently exists between the Lowell Mountain Habitat block and the Green River Reservoir habitat block.
But not everyone agrees that the easements make up for the loss, including Steve Wright of Craftsbury, a former Vermont Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife.
“Mitigation, metaphorically, is a bit like a surgeon cutting off your right arm but assuring you that he or she will see to it your left arm remains protected for the rest of your life. Your right arm, meanwhile, is still gone. Yes, GMP has secured conservation easements from a few area landowners by paying them a ton of money and arranging creative land swaps. The moose, deer, bear, bobcat, grouse, fisher, et al, were apparently not consulted. Such action does not assure existing habitat connectivity or cushion the overall effects of fragmentation of what was an intact montane ecosystem. The right arm is still missing, lost in the clear-cutting and blasting,” Wright said.
Still under dispute is a section of land where the crane path for the wind project is built. Shirley and Don Nelson, adjacent property owners, say the land is really theirs. But Trip Wileman, the property owner leasing to GMP, says it is his. The issue is in court but has not been decided.
“It is unconscionable that Judge Maley continues to hold that case while GMP destroys what is likely to be ruled the Nelson property. Actually, I guess GMP has already destroyed it, so maybe it's only an issue of determining a compensatory value,” Wright said.