Searsburg residents discuss blasting plan for Deerfield Wind


SEARSBURG >> Residents last week learned more details about the blasting activities that will soon be underway at the Deerfield Wind project.

A meeting on Friday between Select Board members and town officials, residents and representatives with the developer turned tense at times, as some people expressed concern with the 15-turbine project.

As required by the certificate of public good first awarded to the project in 2009, residents can take part in both pre- and post-blast surveys of their home, and well monitoring studies, according to Doren Emmett, senior project manager for Avangrid Renewables.

The developer, formerly known as Iberdrola, aims for a substantial completion by October of 2017 and to be up and online by the end of that year, Emmett said.

"If you feel like you got impacted and it's a reasonable accommodation, we try to accommodate for that," Emmett said, addressing officials, abutters and interested and concerned citizens at the town office Friday evening. "Our goal is to partner with the community and make things right. Other developers develop farms and plan on selling them. We plan on sticking around, and will be there for 25 years. We own 55 wind farms across the country, and we're in it for the long haul."

Maine Drilling and Blasting will conduct the blasting activities. Ken Smith, technical supervisor for that company, presented a PowerPoint slideshow that outlined various aspects of the science of blasting. Ground vibrations and air pressure will be regularly monitored, he said. A seismograph will be at the nearest structure.

Ground will be broken on the Deerfield Wind project at a ceremony on Monday morning, close to 10 years after the regulatory process began. Avangrid Renewables wants to build 15 industrial wind turbines, each about 500 feet tall, on 80 acres of Green Mountain National Forest land in Searsburg and Readsboro. Eight will be sited on the west side of Route 8, and another seven on the east side of Route 8, on the same ridgeline as Green Mountain Power's existing 11-turbine wind facility built in 1996.

Residents in both towns had voted in favor of the project and entered into agreements with Avangrid. Under the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement, the developer will pay the town of Searsburg $240,000 annually, and Readsboro, $154,000.

A blasting plan was one condition in the certificate of public good first issued by the state's Public Service Board in 2009. Under the plan, which was revised last July, residents can sign up for pre- and post-blast structure surveys. The surveys will include written summaries, supplemented by video of photo stills. Those surveys and well monitoring will be conducted by Continental Placer, of Albany, N.Y.

Under the blasting plan, blasting will be limited to weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and is not allowed on weekends and holidays. Each blast must be documented in a blast report.

The plan also required the developer notify residents within half a mile at least a month before blasting began. A total of 41 certified letters had been mailed to residents who lived within a little more than half a mile, according to Emmett. There had been nine responses by Friday afternoon.

"Everything is highly regulated," said Brian "Guy" Keefe, western division manager for Maine Drilling and Blasting. "If there was an incident, we'd have to provide that information for an investigation."

Some discussion was spent on the "point of contact" for residents. Emmett said, in other projects, a local government body like a Select Board has been the main contact for residents who have questions.

Tom Shea, who owns a home on Route 8 near the project, questioned why residents couldn't be given a protocol for the surveys and choose their own contractor. Shea said the contractor hired by the blasting company would protect that company's interests, not residents.

In response to attendees questions, Keefe said he was unsure how many blasts will be done a day, and the largest amount of explosives that would be used at once.

"I wouldn't want to give a wrong answer," he said.

Mike Nelson, a resident of the town of Albany in Orleans County, spoke about his experience with the Lowell Wind Project. That project in the Northeast Kingdom has 21 turbines and went online in 2012. He told attendees he drove three hours to attend Friday's meeting. He criticized how Maine Drilling and Blasting operates.

"I came down to tell you, you need to hold their feet to the fire and get things in writing," Nelson said. "Otherwise, this is just what I heard for Lowell: A crock of crap with nothing to support it."

Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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