Swanton Wind Project Raises Water Quality Concerns

Sep 14, 2015

Developers of a proposed seven-turbine wind development in Swanton held an open house last week to allow the public to ask questions and get answers from experts.

At the meeting, a number of people raised concerns about potential impacts to water quality, and they have one high-profile supporter.

Since leaving office, former Vermont Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie has moved to Fairfield, to land where his family has a maple sugar operation. His home is near the ridgeline where the turbines could be built.

“This is where I grew up, there’s a lot of water. This isn’t just a ridgeline. On the backside of the ridgeline there’s a plateau with wetlands and bogs and vernal pools and the project proposes to put blast rock into wetland buffers and build roads in buffers and that’s something I object to,” he said.

Dubie says he won’t likely see or hear the turbines from his home, but he’s working with the families in Swanton who are closest to the project.  And many of his neighbors on Fairfield Pond are against the project because they say it just doesn’t square with the state’s push to improve water quality.

“Don’t sit in a press conference and tell Vermonters about all you’re doing to clean up the lake, when you’re blowing through a wetland on a ridgeline. Don’t preach to me about the shoreline protection act when you’re clearcutting on top of a watershed and don’t create 22 acres of impervious surfaces in a watershed and preach to Vermonters about someone trying to build a camp somewhere on a pond,” Dubie said.

The wind developer, Travis Belisle has hired a team of experts to plan the project. At an open house last week, those consultants set up stations to answer questions from the public. Scott Homstead of the engineering firm Krebs and Lansing said he’d heard a lot about water quality.

“It’s our position that as long as the stormwater management system for the project is designed appropriately and managed appropriately and maintained that those concerns are essentially unfounded,” he said.

Homstead said the amount of impervious surface will actually be 9 acres, and the runoff from the project  will eventually head toward Route 105, and the Mississquoi River and Lake Champlain, not Fairfield Pond. The water would be contained in stormwater ponds.

“The idea is to have a trickle instead of a flood. And by doing that you can prevent erosion and it gives the water time for nutrients and sediment to settle out and prevent those things from reaching our waters,” he explained.

Fairfield resident Sally Collopy attended the meeting to learn more about the project. She says based on her background working with the state’s Local Roads Program, she was not reassured about the potential for preventing damage from runoff.

“Any hydrologist will tell you that you cannot change the flow of a stream. They all know it. Why it’s being ignored is what’s upsetting,” she said.

Martha Staskus of VERA Renewables says wind projects of this scale are held to a high standard when it comes to water quality, and stormwater experts  are “working with the agency of natural resources who we will be working with and evaluating this project and you can be assured that they will apply all the rules and regulations that are required to protect Vermont’s watersheds.”

Staskus says Public Service Board’s Act 248 process for approval is long and thorough and will consider environmental impacts.

Swanton Wind plans to file for a Certificate of Public Good in October.