This is the story of how wind developers doing business as Signal Wind, Vermont Wind, UPC Wind and First Wind received permits to construct more than 5 miles of new roads on top of a mountain in Sheffield, Vermont with five high quality streams and numerous wetlands, without addressing concerns raised by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the US Army Corps’ permitting process.
The story begins in 2001, with the announcement by then-Congressman Bernie Sanders of a $1 Million grant to Washington Electric Coop to begin development of a wind project. At that time, the average wind turbine was about 1 MW. Turbines as large as the 2.5 MW size turbines approved for Sheffield did not exist until 5 years later. It is unlikely that this initial proposal envisioned sixteen 420 foot tall turbines. The newsletter says “eventually, the project could reach several million dollars.” The Sheffield wind project is now being reported as a $90 million dollar project.
Testimony by Agency of Natural Resources staff about the first project design indicate they had significant concerns and found there would be an undue adverse impact.
We cannot, based on the information provided, conclude that the project as proposed does not pose an undue adverse impact. In addition, we are unable to determine whether the applicant has taken all reasonable measures to avoid, minimize, and mitigate the potential impacts. — John Austin, Wildlife Biologist
A few months later, Governor Douglas appointed his third Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources. Secretary Crombie was appointed during the month of December when the technical hearings on the Sheffield wind project were occurring before the Public Service Board, and those hearings extended into January. George Crombie was a surprise pick; his history working with Sanders when he was mayor of Burlington was the only connection to Vermont that was evident. Nobody knew why Douglas chose him.
Published: Wednesday, December 20, 2006 By Ross Sneyd, The Associated Press
MONTPELIER — A man who worked for Bernie Sanders when he was mayor of Burlington is being appointed by Gov. Jim Douglas as secretary of the state’s Natural Resources Agency.
George Crombie, 58, is currently the public works director in Plymouth, Mass., but he spent seven years working for the city of Burlington in a similar role. From 1985 to 1992 Crombie reported to Sanders and then to Peter Clavelle, Sanders’ successor in the mayor’s office.
Crombie left Burlington to join then-Gov. Bill Weld’s administration in Massachusetts. He first served as a regional director of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and then undersecretary of environmental affairs. Crombie worked in Weld’s administration from 1992 to 1999 and then took a job as director of public works for the city of Nashua, N.H., before moving to a similar position in Plymouth, Mass.
As Vermont’s natural resources secretary, he’ll be in charge of most environmental policy in the state, fish and wildlife and forests and parks.
He’s replacing Tom Torti, who left the post in late summer to take over as the president of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce in the Burlington area.
Soon after Crombie’s appointment to head Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources, the US Fish and Wildlife Service wrote a letter to UPC Wind expressing concerns about the proposed wind project.
The proposed Sheffield Wind Project raises a number of potential concerns to the Service in the general areas of habitat fragmentation, impacts to waters/wetlands and bird and bat mortality.
A little over a month after Secretary Crombie’s appointment, ANR entered into an MOU with UPC Wind, finding the project is not expected to pose an undue adverse impact to wildlife. The MOU ended ANR’s participation in the PSB process.
Whereas, the parties agree, nonetheless, that based upon the site-specific studies that have been performed and other available information, UPC has met its burden of proof under the wildlife criteria of section 248, and the Sheffield Wind Farm is not expected to pose an undue adverse impact to wildlife, provided the mitigation and studies outlined in this MOU are implemented.
In August 8, 2007 the Vermont Public Service Board issued a Certificate of Public Good for Sheffield Wind project
The US Army Corps and US Fish and Wildlife Service were still concerned about impacts to water quality from the high elevation project, and after the CPG was issued the Army Corps wrote a letter to UPC Wind stating that the project was not eligible for a Vermont General Permit because aquatic impacts are “more than minimal”
The US Fish and Wildlife service (USFWS) has determined that the aquatic impacts of the proposed project are more than minimal. As required by the procedures in the VT General Permit program, the project at this time is not eligible for authorization under the VT General Permit, and must be reviewed under the individual permit review procedure.
In Feb. 2008 in an internal memo, USFWS staff reported that UPC Wind personnel indicated they were going to “pull other levers” including going outside the F&W Service and were looking at ways to avoid the 404 permitting process altogether.
On August 7, 2007, the New England Field Office requested that the Section 404 application by UPC Wind for the Sheffield Wind Project be removed from the general permit category (i.e., kicked out), and processed as an individual permit because the impacts were more than minimal. We have had several meetings and discussions with UPC Wind since then, and continue to believe the impacts are more than minimal, despite modifications to the footprint of the project by UPC. Recently, UPC Wind personnel indicated that they were going to “pull other levers”, and have contacted regional (Alex Hoar) and Washington (Dave Stout) office staff and we presume others outside of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
In March 2008, the USFWS followed up with a letter to VT ANR detailing the specific concerns with the draft permit ANR had under consideration. Vernon Lang of the USFWS asked questions about permitted turbidity levels, the lack of requirement to monitor Temperature, and other critical water quality protections. These are the very issues that were litigated before Environmental Court in 2009 and are currently being litigated before the Vermont Supreme Court.
We understand that these streams and unnamed tributaries are classified as Class B cold water systems by the Vermont Water Quality Standards and that the new turbidity standard for these waters is none in such amounts or concentrations that would prevent the full support of uses, and not to exceed 10 NTU as an annual average under dry weather base-flow conditions…
Hence, our question is, given the nature of these receiving waters, how does the 25 NTU action level where runoff leaves the construction site ensure compliance with the full support or 10 NTU instream standard? …
It seems difficult to reconcile the permit limits with the water quality standards criteria because 1) it is not clear what existing and designated uses are recognized and how full support of uses is measured in these waters, and 2) it is not clear who is responsible for measuring turbidity levels to establish the annual average under dry weather base-flow conditions…
Another closely aligned question concerns compliance with temperature criteria…Given that, the only monitoring specified in the draft permit is for turbidity as discussed above, how can the Department be certain that the temperature criteria will be complied with during project construction when it is not called out in the permit or addressed in monitoring protocols?…
In addition, we are uncertain whether the “new” or the “old” turbidity criteria are applicable given that EPA has not, to our knowledge, approved these “new” turbidity criteria.
Soon after Vern Lang laid out the concerns about impacts to water quality from construction of such a large project on the mountain in Sheffield, US F&W Service emails indicate that First Wind used their political connections to overcome the environmental issues associated with the federal agency staff concerns:
From: Michael Bartlett
To: Vernon Lang
Date: 4/18/2008 3:46:58 PM
Sheffield made its way into Washington. There is a long email floating around the RO (including Stout) trying to set up a meeting with Marvin. Thabault bumped it to Jeff Underwood.
Thabault wanted to know why we were fighting over “3/4 acre” of wetlands. I tried to set the story straight.
Michael J. Bartlett
New England Field Office
70 Commercial Street
Concord, NH 03301
phone: (603) 223-2541×26
fax: (603) 223-0104
In April 2008, UPC Wind sought to meet with USFWS staff and now-Sen. Bernie Sanders’ office wanted to “dial in to keep current on the project.”
From: Matt Kearns <MKearns@upcwind.com>
Subject: RE: Meeting Schedule for Sheffield Wind Project
Date: 4/25/2008 1:57:54 PM
Thanks for setting this up. I know travel schedules are challenging during the field season.
My wife and I are due with our first child on May 16th so I may not be there in person but would like to call in. A member of our Environmental Affairs group will attend. Also, Sen. Bernie Sander’s office would like to dial in to keep current on the project.
Our goal for the meeting on May 22nd is to have an open and collaborative discussion covering the following (please modify as necessary):
o Background on UPC Wind www.upcwind.com – New England wind projects and company environmental commitment
o Projects endorsed by Audubon, Appalachian Mountain Club, and Conservation Law Foundation
o Pre and post construction studies at New England wind farms
o Collaboration with New England natural resource agencies
o Bat Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC) peer review
o Overview of the 16 turbine Sheffield Wind Project [www.sheffieldwind.com] – approved by VT Public Service Board August, 2007
o Summary of 17 seasons of wildlife data collected
o Overview of VT Agency of Natural Resources (VT ANR) Stipulation Agreement
o Post construction study proposal to VT Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit
o Describe proposed wetland impacts (approximately 1/10 acre)
o USFWS recommendation to USACE for IP vs. GP
In May 2008, ANR Sec. George Crombie defended ANR’s permit and sought a meeting.
It was with some surprise that I read the letter of March 21, 2008 sent to the Water Quality Division of the Department of Environmental Conservation from Vernon C. Lang, and copied to a number of parties. Mr. Lang poses several pointed questions, and challenges a number of permitting decisions made by the VTDEC, despite the fact that the standards used and applied in this case are widely viewed as state-of-the-art with regard to erosion prevention and sediment control. I am concerned that these issues was not broached as matter between our agencies.
An email dated June 18 indicates that on May 24, UPC met with the US F&W Service.
The result was that US F&W Service’s concerns went away, the Army Corps permit changed from an Individual to a General permit, and UPC got what it wanted.
More emails were exchanged on July 2 and 10, 2008, though some of the information was redacted when the public records were released.
By July 10, the
matter was labeled “Urgent” and the correspondence was privileged. Information was redacted when the records were released to the public.
On July 18, the US Army Corps wrote to UPC indicating a General permit would be issued instead of an Individual Permit. The concerns raised by USFWS’ Vernon Lang were never addressed. He was removed from USFWS review of wind projects and then he retired.
And then George Crombie left Vermont state government.
JONATHAN WOOD appointed Secretary of Natural Resources
DOUGLAS THANKS Crombie for Service
Montpelier, Vt. – (November 7, 2008) Governor Jim Douglas today announced that Forest, Parks and Recreation (FPR) Commissioner Jonathan Wood has been appointed Secretary of Natural Resources.
Wood replaces George Crombie who, after nearly two years as secretary, is pursuing other opportunities.
Governor Douglas thanked Crombie for his service. “I appreciate the time George dedicated to our state and the work he did to advance my climate change initiatives and the Clean and Clear Action Plan,” Governor Douglas said. “I wish him well in his future endeavors.”
Governor Douglas said Wood, who he appointed FPR commissioner in 2003, brings a wealth of policy knowledge and management experience to his new post.
“Jonathan shares my view that environmental protection and economic growth go hand-in-hand. He understands that our environmental policies must be about ensuring that every Vermonter can enjoy Vermont’s hills and valleys, lakes and streams, our forests and fields without worrying that their next paycheck will be their last,” the Governor said. “I know he will continue to serve Vermonters very well as the secretary of natural resources.”
One of the curious things about the Sheffield wind project is that it was developed during the reign of anti-wind Governor Jim Douglas. Near the end of his tenure, Gov. Douglas said on Vermont Public Radio
“So I hope Vermonters will not be enchanted by the quick and easy entreaty of those who say it’s (wind energy) a nice, clean renewable source and think about the aesthetic and economic consequences as well as the environmental impact of those huge industrial machine.” − Jim Douglas
Douglas’ opposition to wind energy development on Vermont’s mountains begs the question, why did his ANR support First Wind’s permit despite the US F&W Service’s concern that it was not protective of water quality? In the litigation over the stormwater construction permit in Environmental Court in November and December of 2009, ANR and the State of Vermont devoted significant legal resources to fully participating in the litigation, taking First Wind’s side every step of the way. With an anti-wind governor, the staff time and expense being expended by the state didn’t make sense.
Factor in Bernie Sanders and it begins to add up.