Grafton, Windham trade letters with Iberdrola over wind project

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GRAFTON AND WINDHAM >> Iberdrola issued a stern letter to the town of Windham on Friday, taking issue with critics of the company's proposed wind farm and accusing them of "inaccuracies" and "false claims."

The letter was in response to a letter two members of the Select Board and the chairman of the Planning Commission sent to Iberdrola, dated June 13. In that letter, Board Chairman Frank Seawright, Board member Maureen Bell and Planning Commission Chairman Bob Bingham, state Windham "is not appropriate for your proposed industrial wind installation. The Windham Town Plan expressly forbids industrial wind and is based on years of careful study."

Seawright told the Reformer he was not surprised by the tone of the letter from Iberdrola. The June 13 letter was in response to correspondence the town received from Iberdrola, urging it to negotiate over the 28-turbine wind project in the Stiles Brook area of Windham and Grafton, said Seawright.

"We don't want to negotiate with Iberdrola," Seawright told the Reformer. "That would mean we were accepting the project. There is nothing to negotiate. We don't want it."

In the June 13 letter, Seawright, Bell and Bingham note their concern that the project is located in an area that might increase flooding and erosion. "Your proposed project would require extensive blasting, bulldozing, and impervious surfacing of the high-elevation Stiles Brook Forest, and is thus at odds with crucial flood management initiatives and practices of the town, the region, and the state. ... Most importantly, Windham will not support a project that places our downstream neighbors at increased risk for flooding. We take an ethical and moral stance in relation to our neighbors in Grafton, Saxtons River, and Cambridgeport ..."

The letter also states the Stiles Brook area is "one of the largest unfragmented habitat blocks remaining in southern Vermont" and any activity there is bound to hurt wildlife such as bear, moose and hawks.

Other issues raised in the letter include water quality, the proximity of homes, and the effect the industrial turbines might have on human health and wildlife. "Given the marked unsuitability of the Stiles Brook Forest for an industrial wind installation, we ask that you suspend your involvement with this project immediately."

The July 8 letter from Iberdrola, which was signed by Jenny Briot, manager of renewables development for New York and New England, noted the company was "disappointed" that its request to appoint a committee "to discuss the form and terms of a potential agreement between Iberdrola Renewables and the Town of Windham," was not approved. "We remain committed to abiding by a fair and equitable vote of registered voters in Windham and want to present an agreement that is the most beneficial to the town and community members."

Briot also contended the June 13 Select Board meeting during which the letter was drafted was not properly warned. "The lack of due process around your response is alarming."

But Seawright said he has spoken with the town's attorney, who assured him everything about the June 13 meeting was in compliance with Vermont open meeting statutes.

The contention in the board's June 13 letter that the project would be at odds with crucial flood management initiatives "is not the case," wrote Briot. "Once the Stiles Brook project is built, the highly technical and engineered storm water system will help ensure that the towns of Grafton and Windham as well as surrounding communities are well protected against the increased risk of floods due to climate change."

Briot also noted that "Well-sited renewable wind energy is one of the best tools available to us to fight the devastating effects of climate change, and reliably keep the lights on."

Another allegation in the board's June 13 letter, that at the Kingdom Community Wind project site, enhanced monitoring has not been carried out according to the project's permit "is patently false," she wrote. "In fact, the state has provided appropriate oversight of the storm water management system at the Kingdom Community Wind project and enhanced monitoring has been performed. The results are conclusive; the system works well and is ensuring that water quality is very high."

In an email exchange between Trey Martin, the deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, and Seawright, Martin stated that there were inaccuracies in the town's June 13 letter and at GraftonWindhamWind.org, a website established in opposition to the project. The website contends the "Agency of Natural Resources has betrayed its mission to protect Vermont."

"Given these repeated misrepresentations, ANR felt it important to respond," wrote Martin in the email. He noted that the Kingdom County Wind project "is in compliance with the monitoring requirements imposed by its stormwater permit. ... Further, what some have described as a delay in monitoring was in fact perfectly consistent with a permit condition that monitoring not commence until at least one full year following completion of construction. ... Although a final decision will not be made until the conclusion of monitoring, to date it appears as though the stormwater system at KCW is performing at a high level."

Martin also noted that of the six stations along five streams monitored during construction and operation of the project, "four maintained their biological quality, one showed an improved biological condition while one showed a lowering. The source of the impairment to the last site may be due to pre-existing conditions created by a logging operation in that watershed in combination with the natural streambed gradient break at the sampled location — both unrelated to KCW operations."

Briot also disputed the contention that Stiles Brook is one of the largest unfragmented habitat blocks in southern Vermont because it ignores the presence of one of the 345kv power line maintained by VELCO within a 300-foot corridor, which runs directly through the middle of the 5,000-acre parcel.

As far as the area being unfragmented, said Seawright, they should take that up with ANR, which has designated that area as unfragmented.

Briot noted that the turbines will not affect the health of nearby residents. "(P)eer-reviewed scientific evidence overwhelmingly finds that properly sited wind turbines do not harm human health. The fact is that hundreds of thousands of people around the world live near and work in close proximity to operating wind turbines without ill health effects."

Seawright scoffed at the mention of peer-reviewed reports. "Peer review is not a guarantee that something is accurate. The researcher may not intend it to be false — they just did not do it correctly and it is possible that the reviewers did not catch the errors. But Iberdrola does what it does. The wind companies can offer money or try to intimidate you. Well, we could use the money, but we're not going to take it and we will try to resist their intimidation."

Grafton and Windham also have a number of second-home homeowners who are concerned their voices won't be heard in the process. At a July 5 Grafton Select Board meeting, several of them presented a letter to the board.

Pieter van der Made, a member of the Grafton Woodlands Group, which opposes the project, noted the letter points out the importance of second-homeowners to the economic health and vitality of Grafton. Not only that, the letter states that Iberdrola should not determine how the decision-making process in the town takes place.

"Since the project will affect the community as a whole, both residents and non-residents should be able to cast a vote on the value of the project to their town," van der Made told the Reformer. "There is an established precedent for this in Vermont. Since the letter was sent, we have been contacted by a number of Grafton second-homeowners requesting that their name be added to the letter."

Al Sands, the chairman of the Grafton Select Board, suggested that the discussion about the letter be tabled until the next Select Board meeting when the lawyer for the town will be there, which will be held on Monday, July 18, at 6 p.m. at the Grafton Elementary School. Other issues involving the wind project were also tabled until the July 18 meeting.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.


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