EPA, the Circ Highway, and the Clean Water Act

EPA’s Regional Administrator’s letter to Vermont written May 9, 2011 refers to Vermont’s water quality certification evaluation, particularly impacts to wetlands and other waters associated with the project, and identifies concerns relevant to the State’s Section 401 review.  The letter says:

“Among those concerns are increased phosphorus loadings to Lake Champlain (which is impaired due to excess phosphorus), with no demonstration that the load would be offset through reductions from other sources; the loss or alteration of an entire network of headwater streams that is an essential source of clean, cold water for Allen Brook, an impaired water; the failure to demonstrate that antidegradation requirements would be satisfied in light of the significant degradation of wetlands and other waters that would occur from this alternative; and likely violations of water quality criteria in affected streams during construction.”

I highlighted in red the three areas of concern that describe the problems currently occurring on the mountain where First Wind is constructing its project in Sheffield.  An entire network of headwater streams that are an essential source of clean, cold water, are being degraded

anti-degradation requirements are not being satisfied and significant degradation of waters is occurring

and violations of water quality criteria is likely occurring during construction but nobody will be able to prove it because the Environmental Court judge decided to support ANR’s permit that requires no monitoring for Temperature, pH, or Total Suspended Solids during construction, and set a turbidity standard of 25 n.t.u. which is not protective of trout streams.

VCE has been working on water issues for nearly a decade, and our focus has been primarily on groundwater.  VCE is now filling the vacuum created by wind projects on ridgelines where the Vermont environmental organizations who typically devote staff time to protecting waters from stormwater run-off have been absent.  We have been learning about stormwater regulation in general, reading EPA reports about various state’s approaches to controlling sediment, understanding the Clean Water Act and the Vermont Water Quality Standards, and Vermont’s approach to developing an antidegradation implementation policy [see #10 for a review of the history], which right now is a Procedure (and since when did ANR begin adopting Procedures rather than going through Rule-Making?).

While the issue of water quality protection and controlling stormwater run-off quickly becomes very technical, the fundamental issue is simple.  Keep soil, sediment, dirt, whatever you want to call it, out of the water.  These waters are where the fish are born and hatched, they are the source of your drinking water and the source of all life.  The highest quality water in Vermont is on top of our mountains, which soak up the rain and fog, where water pools on the surface and seeps in through pathways developed over time.  Vermont’s mountains are our reservoirs, our catchments that store up water and release it slowly through the seasons.

Wind turbine construction on Vermont’s mountains requires roads cleared 100 feet wide with intersections even wider.  Here is one of the smaller intersections just constructed on the mountain in Sheffield, next to a wetland

The photo below shows a wetland next to the newly constructed road, where water is pooling next to a berm.

On the other side of the road, below, water and sediment seep over the silt fencing (which, according to the permit, is supposed to be maintained on a daily basis and has not been maintained since the snow left the mountain in April)

Which mountain targeted for a wind turbine project is this?

or this?

or this?

Yes, those are photos of three different mountains where developers are proposing to build wind turbines.  One of them has a Certificate of Public Good from the Vermont Public Service Board.

And yes, I’m sorry to burst your bubble if you thought wind energy was a good idea for Vermont.  The reality is it’s not like driving out into a field and plunking down some concrete and steel.  It’s a huge assault on the environment requiring exponentially larger inputs of diesel fuels, blasting compounds, and greenhouse gas emissions.  We have been aware that wind turbines kill more bats on ridgelines than on flat ground, that migratory raptors and other birds of types not normally killed by cats or automobiles are killed on ridgeline wind projects, that the creation of the roads fragments habitat and eliminates critical habitat for songbirds, bears and all kinds of other wild species, and that some people living near wind turbines may get sick and/or have to abandon their homes because of noise.

But the statewide discussion about wind energy in Vermont has really missed the mark because we have failed to recognize that we really are different.  We have critical water quality issues that cannot be overcome.  Compliance with water quality standards and the Clean Water Act simply is not possible for these high elevation projects.  We need to protect and respect this source water, not degrade it.  The law requires it.  When will the EPA and Vermont’s ANR, which is delegated to implement and enforce the Clean Water Act, stop issuing permits for wind turbine projects that are guaranteed to degrade water quality, just as they have decided not to issue permits for similarly destructive projects like the Circ Highway?

VCE is working on a post about the history of the efforts by Vermont citizens to protect the water quality in Sheffield, and why First Wind is now able to release sediment into high elevation trout streams with the blessing of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources.

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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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