Searsburg residents gird for wind project blasting work
SEARSBURG >> Searsburg residents living near the Deerfield Wind project site off Route 8 are bracing for construction-related blasting, which is scheduled to begin after 9 a.m. on Tuesday.
Craig Goman lives off Route 8 near the site where Avangrid Renewables plans to mount seven of Deerfield Wind's 15 Gamesa wind turbines — representing the first commercial project in the nation permitted on U.S. Forest Service land.
Goman said he plans to monitor what construction crews do and potential impacts on his property and the local environment.
"I just want to hear how loud it's going to be," he said of the blasting by contractor Maine Drilling & Blasting, of Argyle, N.Y. "I want to see if rocks will come flying."
Goman added that he has a spring-fed water system he has documented with video prior to the blasting.
The other eight turbines will be installed on the west side of Route 8 in Readsboro, where blasting work began last week, according to an Avangrid spokesman, but he said there are no residences close to that site.
Protesters are not expected to gathered at the site as they did during construction of the Lowell Wind project near Craftsbury, according to Annette Smith, of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, a staunch opponent of commercial wind projects.
There was discussion of another protest, she said, but the difference in Searsburg is that the site is entirely on federal land, rather than privately owned land, and there will be an exclusionary zone that protesters and others would be prohibited from entering under penalty of federal law.
"I feel the full weight of the federal government would be coming down on us if we protest there," Smith said.
"You can't go up there to put up tents," Smith said. "It just looks like it won't even be conducive [to viewing] the site without an airplane."
The Deerfield Wind project has received all necessary permits and is strongly supported by the administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin, but the permitting process was contested and took more than a decade.
Maine Drilling & Blasting officials have said its work will include regular monitoring of ground vibrations and air pressure, and a seismograph will be used.
Residents were notified last week that blasting would begin Monday in Searsburg, but a second message was issued saying blasting will begin on Tuesday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The blasting plan called for the developer to notify residents within a half mile of the site by registered letter. A total of 41 letters were sent out, officials have said.
Thus far in Searsburg, Goman said, he has seen "huge trucks, huge dozers, excavators" and many other vehicles and equipment have passed his house on the way to the project site, which also is the in the vicinity of the existing wind installation of 11 turbines that were erected during the late 1990s. Those turbines are approximately 200 feet tall, while the new turbines will be about up to 430 feet to the extended tip of the blade.
Goman also said he has heard work in progress around the clock, although crews did halt over the weekend as promised.
Avangrid spokesman Paul Copleman said Monday, however, that the project permit only allows work during daytime hours, which he said he understood to be what has taken place.
Asked whether any project plan changes have become necessary to accommodate difficulties unearthed at the site, Copleman said he hadn't been informed of any. "So far, it is going just fine," he said. "The rest of this year will have tree-clearing and road work."
Having existing roads and infrastructure in place around the current wind farm site in Searsburg will mean a reduced need for tree-cutting and new roads, he said, adding that the entire project, which was reviewed amid opposition, is operating under strict state and federal oversight.
Work on creating the tower bases, which extend underground, won't begin until next summer, the spokesman said. The 30-megawatt generating facility is expected to be operational by the end of next year.
Tom Shea, who has a second home near Goman's property but lives in New Hampshire, has been an opponent of the project. He said he believes the equivalent of "strip mining will take place on both sides [of Route 8]."
He said his childhood home, which he now owns, "is right in the middle. On both sides there will be clear-cutting and bulldozing."
But Shea added, "I don't think there is any way of preventing them from doing everything they want."
Shea said he tried to get project officials to provide a specific plan for the site work, "but they won't say until after they excavate." He described the ridge line where the turbines will be mounted as "mostly rock on top," and rocks, silt and clay in other areas.
Smith said planned monitoring of the effects on bears and their habitat should be closely examined as the project goes on. "It is their feeding season," she said.
As part of the permitting process, the developer agreed to fund land purchases for mitigation purposes and a five-year study of the effects of a wind facility on bear populations.
While permitting is in place for Deerfield Wind, Smith has questioned in letters to Agency of Natural Resources General Counsel Jen Duggan and other officials details of the stormwater runoff plan for the Lowell Wind project. She contends the plan was inadequate and the same issues would apply to the similar design of the Deerfield Wind plan. She has requested that a stay be granted halting the work.
"They told me they are looking into it, but obviously they are not taking it seriously," Smith said Monday.
Another reason she declined to help mount a protest in Searsburg, Smith said, is that there are a number of other battles to fight across the state. "The need to help people have their say [in the process] is just endless," she said.
Smith added that the debate surrounding commercial wind projects in the state has become "so unbelievably intense and so ugly."
Other than environmental concerns Smith said she wants to keep pointing out health effects for people living close enough to projects to hear wind turbines in operation. She recently sent a German video to the Public Service Board, Duggan and hearing officers who work on wind projects.
The film, with English subtitles, is called "Living Under a Windplant."
Shea said that living near wind turbines "sounds like an airplane coming in for a landing, but it never lands."
Jim Therrien writes for the Bennington Banner and VtDigger.org. He can be reached at 802-447-7567, ext. 114.