Press Release: Energize Vermont Responds to Vermont Supreme Court Decision on GMP’s Lowell Stormwater Permits

May 28, 2014 No Comments by

Decision Has Significant Impacts On Future of All Development in Vermont

RUTLAND, VT – Non-profit energy advocacy group Energize Vermont, along with neighbors of the Lowell wind project, respond to the Vermont Supreme Court’s (VSC) decision on stormwater permits issued by Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources for the use of “level spreaders”, an alternative stormwater treatment design approved for GMP’s use on Lowell Mountain.

The group originally appealed the permits to the Public Service Board (PSB) before construction began on the 21 turbine wind project in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. The stormwater permit appeal was the first to be heard by the PSB. After taking more than a year to hear the case and render a decision, the PSB rejected the appeal and affirmed the permits at the end of May, after the project was fully operational.

At issue in the appeal was whether the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) had “discretion” to permit experimental stormwater treatment protocols (STPs) even if they fail to comply with the applicable regulations in the Vermont Stormwater Management Manual. The Lowell wind project uses “level spreaders” to manage stormwater runoff from the site. The level spreaders have a history of failing on steep slopes and are not currently considered standard stormwater treatment protocols.

“After digesting the VSC’s decision, we are even more concerned that Vermont’s environment and water quality are being handed over to developers to degrade rather than to maintain and protect as required,” says Mark Whitworth, Executive Director of Energize Vermont.

Typical of decisions on appeal from Boards to the VSC, the Court once again deferred to the ANR to affirm its permits, which were developed through closed door negotiations with only GMP’s experts. In its decision, the VSC defers to ANR. ANR’s deference to GMP was evident at oral argument, where GMP’s attorney, not ANR’s, defended the Agency’s permits. “Government continues to fail to protect the citizens of Vermont and the landscape in which they live,” said Steve Wright of Ridge Protectors after reviewing the Court’s decision.

At the public hearing for the Lowell stormwater permits in 2011, ANR’s stormwater permitting specialist Kevin Burke admitted the Agency has never denied a stormwater permit.

For the use of experimental STPs to be acceptable, the applicant must meet criteria set forth in Section 1.1.2 of the Vermont Stormwater Management Manual. In the case of the Lowell wind project, Green Mountain Power admitted the current stormwater treatment design does not meet the criteria. The VSC’s decision grants ANR a new ability to go outside existing regulations to permit experimental methods while ignoring the State’s normal stormwater protection standards.

“With this VSC decision this case has gone beyond just high-elevation wind projects. ANR can wield this new found power, which will impact all types of future development in the state of Vermont. ANR can now pick and choose which rules apply,” continued Whitworth.

On the Lowell side of the mountain, Robbin Clark, president of the Lowell Mountains Group, has been on the wind project site. She observed, “I have seen the level spreaders not working. On July 3rd last year I went on the mountain tour and photographed a level spreader overflowing. The spreaders had not been maintained. They were not level and the water was not flowing level but was streaming and causing visible erosion.” The Lowell Mountains drain into the Mississquoi River on the Lowell side, which drains to Lake Champlain.

Neighbor Carol Irons lives close to the river on the Albany side. She observes, “I notice that the watershed area has changed. The river is heavily silted after a rainstorm. There are rich wetlands all along the river, and they have started to silt up.”

Whitworth concluded, “We must build renewable energy right. We can’t keep making exceptions, especially for corporations that have failed to demonstrate a significant interest in being socially responsible and environmentally friendly in our communities.”

Energize Vermont was created to educate and advocate for establishing renewable energy solutions that are in harmony with the irreplaceable character of Vermont, and that contribute to the well-being of all her people. This mission is achieved by researching, collecting, and analyzing information from all sources; and disseminating it to the public, community leaders, legislators, media, and regulators for the purpose of ensuring informed decisions for long-term stewardship of our communities.

Read the VSC Decision issued 5/23/14 here: http://vce.org/op13-180.pdf

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