VCE’s Comments on Draft Stormwater Construction and Operations Permits for the Lowell Mountains Wind proposal by GMP

Vermonters for a Clean Environment, 789 Baker Brook Road, Danby, Vermont  05739

March 3, 2011

Kevin Burke, Environmental Analyst, Water Quality Division, DEC, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources

via email

RE: Permits No. 6216-INDC and -INDS – Kingdom Community Wind

Dear Mr. Burke,

VCE submits the following comments on the draft permits listed above, and requests that the current drafts be withdrawn and re-written to comply with the technical concerns detailed below.

Our comments address permits for the construction and operation phase of the Lowell project.

VCE supports the comments submitted by Andres Torizzo of Watershed Consulting Associates, LLC on behalf of the towns of Albany and Craftsbury, the Lowell Mountains Group, and various individuals.  We also support the comments submitted by Paul Brouha..

In general terms, we agree with his findings that there are significant flaws in the technical aspects of the modeling analysis used in the drafts.  When it comes to construction management and site design decisions, the state’s permitting process must do everything possible within the regulatory framework to limit negative impacts from stormwater runoff on the construction site, in surrounding areas, and on impacted streams and watersheds.  Especially in the circumstances of high elevation Class A1 streams, there should be no negative impacts allowed.

Mr. Torizzo’s analysis clearly shows that this is not the case in the proposed permits.

More specifically, the draft construction permit would allow as many as 14 acres to be disturbed at one time depending on the area, which is far too large an area.  Given that the permit is intended to limit the risk of erosion in the high elevation, steep headwater slopes where construction is to take place, a maximum area of two acres would be required to comply with state regulations.  The developer cannot rapidly stabilize that much terrain in anticipation of, or during, a high intensity precipitation event.

For the same reasons, the maximum allowable time an area may be left unstabilized should be seven days, not the 14 in the draft.  At such high elevations high intensity rainstorms are frequent and unpredictable.

50 foot stream buffers should be required in order to shade the streams and also to provide a vegetated filter strip to trap sediment. Again, such buffers would reduce the risk of stream habitat degradation.

The modeling values used underestimate stormwater runoff and therefore the risk of overwhelming the BMPs designed to control increased flood peaks in the receiving headwater streams.  Unless the conditions are amended, there is substantial risk that stream channels will be destabilized and degraded by project-induced runoff.

Other issues of concern that are not addressed by Mr. Torizzo include water temperature impacts, and the need for adequate monitoring in advance of the project.  This monitoring is not required in the drafts.  Exposed surfaces created by the project will affect the runoff and therefore change the temperature of the water in the receiving streams.  The natural regime of water temperature, pH, turbidity, TSS and flows needs to be documented as baseline measurements over the course of a year before construction begins, in order to meaningfully monitor project impacts to water quality and aquatic habitat.

Vermont Water Quality Standards only permit a one degree temperature rise and no more than 10 NTU turbidity increase in the receiving stream in order to comply with the anti-degradation policy.   To protect these high elevation streams, we expect a permit to require pre-construction biomonitoring to identify different species and numbers of species to indicate the health of the water, stream substrate analysis (percent embeddedness, pebble counts etc. – evaluating changes in the stream so that it can be determined if the activities have resulted in increased sediment in stream beds), chemical analysis of waters, along with remedial actions with a specific schedule of compliance. How can the state issue a stormwater construction permit without having done an evaluation of the status of these streams? Absent baseline information about each of these headwater streams and the present uses of them one cannot know what is at stake.

What is at risk is significant.  Vermont’s high elevation streams provide critical habitat for many species, including native populations of brook trout that have been unaffected by years of downstream fish stocking.

When forested watersheds are progressively denuded of tree cover (as will happen in the course of the construction of this project), mineral soil is exposed (as by road cuts and fills), and impervious surfaces are created (as by building of roads and construction sites). As these changes in watershed hydrological regimes occur, stream biota are affected.

Rainfall runs off faster and erodes soil. Instead of being intercepted, rain runs off quickly over the exposed soil.  Sediments are deposited in fish spawning gravels and invertebrate habitats, reducing the flow of the oxygenated water necessary for fish egg and invertebrate survival.

The snow pack melts faster, and acid precipitation stored in the snow pack is released more quickly, impacting fish and invertebrates.  In order to assess impacts, water quality sampling must be done during these snowmelt events, not just in the summer.

Construction and operation will lead flood peaks to increase, causing destructive flooding that destabilizes stream banks, increases stream bank erosion, and widens stream channels.

Surface water runoff and widened stream channels cause summer stream water temperatures to rise and waters may become inhospitable for trout and cold water invertebrates. In the winter the surface runoff and widened channels result in freezing of the gravels (anchor ice) and mortality to young fish and invertebrates.

The draft permits do not specify the Agency’s monitoring schedule, nor the number of ANR staff to be assigned to this project for permit review, enforcement, monitoring, etc.  The developer has testified that as many as four construction crews will be operating on the site at one time – overseeing this process will take significant staffing and funding on the part of the Agency.  We are concerned that given the current tight budgets and staff limitations, there will not be sufficient ANR staff to oversee this project and its impacts, especially because similar projects are projected to be taking place in both Sheffield and Readsboro/Searsburg during similar periods of time.  The final permit must explain, in detail, how ANR intends to monitor all three of these high elevation, high risk construction sites all at the same time.  We are also concerned that the permits allow the developer to employ an independent stormwater construction and operations monitoring firm.  This proposal impacts state’s waters that are in the public trust, and because of their importance the permits should require that the monitors work for ANR, not the developer.

Local residents can attest to the fact that the Lowell ridgelines are, like many in Vermont, extremely wet.  It is hard to understand how impacts in this environment can be appropriately managed.  Construction of the turbine’s concrete foundations, for example, will necessitate the filling of fractured bedrock with a hardening substance all along the ridge line, limiting infiltration and further increasing runoff and erosion.  This runoff will in turn negatively impact wetlands on and below the ridge.

Federal law requires that no degradation of these high elevation streams should be allowed.   Any stormwater permits issued for this project must ensure that the impacts listed above do not occur – and must do so in a convincing fashion, that provides for enforcement by the state and accountability by the developer.  The current draft falls far short of this standard.

For these reasons, we request that you withdraw the draft permits, and re-write them to address these issues.  If the choice is to issue these permits without changes or deny the permit, we strongly recommend denying these permits because they are grossly insufficient to provide protection to the water quality of these pristine high elevation streams.

Vermont’s mountains contain water at its source, water that Vermont’s people, landscapes, plants and animals depend on.  We need to protect and respect this precious resource, not degrade it.

Thank you for your consideration of our comments.

Sincerely,

Annette Smith, Executive Director

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About vermontersforacleanenvironment

VCE's mission is to raise the voices of Vermonters and hold corporations accountable for their impacts on our people, our land, our air and our water. We are united in the belief that Vermont's future lies in conserving its clean, rural, small-town environment. We have joined together to pursue the common goals of encouraging economic development with minimal environmental impacts and preserving Vermont's natural beauty. VCE is committed to providing facts and information so that people can make informed decisions. We encourage your participation.
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