Swanton Wind faces further allegations

St. Albans Messenger, March 22, 2017
By TOM BENTON

Messenger Staff Writer

SWANTON — A Swanton sugaring business is suing Swanton Wind, alleging trespassing and illegal road construction as well as a host of complaints related to the project itself, despite the fact the project is still undergoing a Public Service Board review.

Mark and Marianne Dubie own M& M VT Maple, LLC, the company suing Swanton Wind, LLC and its manager, Travis Belisle. The Dubies’ attorney, Hans Huessy, filed the lawsuit with the Franklin County Superior Court, Civil Division, on March 3.

M& M owns land adjacent to Swanton Wind’s proposed construction site. According to the complaint, one of the project’s proposed turbines will stand within 50 feet of M& M’s property.

Travis Belisle at a Montpelier Public Service Board conference in Oct. 2016, flanked by Ashley Belisle, left, and attorney Anthony Iarrapino, right.

Messenger file photo

In the complaint, the Dubies allege that Swanton Wind representatives trespassed on that land “for the purpose of delineating wetlands” in Dec. 2014, and constructed an approximately 1,000-foot road leading to the top of the ridge sometime around September, 2015. The Dubies allege that Swanton Wind and/or its representatives “knew they were trespassing” in both cases.

The Dubies allege that the so-called “Ridge Road” was constructed without their permission, and that “numerous trees were taken down or injured” during the process.

The complaint says the landowners issued Swanton Wind a written warning in Oct. 2015, and that Swanton Wind representatives again trespassed “to further delineate the wetlands” that November.

The further allegations refer to the project itself, and concern with which the Public Service Board’s regulatory process is designed.

The complaint says that “in the petition it filed with the Public Service Board, Swanton Wind stated that the wind turbines proposed for inclusion in the project will throw large chunks of ice, weighing as much as two pounds, onto the M& M property. The ice may travel up to 1,000 feet.”

But according to Swanton Wind’s Public Service Board application, Swanton Wind hired Norwegian risk management company DNV GL to help assess a winter operating protocol, designed to thwart that possibility. The company determined the protocol would offer “adequate protection against ice throw” by using a constant monitoring system, tracking several factors including “periods of ice-induced drags” on non-heated sensors. The winter operating protocol also states the turbines will be shut down if temperatures are below 35.6 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity above 93 percent, among other factors.

The Dubies’ complaint also alleges that the noise of Swanton Wind’s turbines will thwart the M& M team’s ability to find leaks in their sap pipelines. “One of the means of identifying a leak in the pipeline is to listen for noise made by vacuum leaks,” the complaint says. Swanton Wind is “committed” to adhering to the state’s

industrial wind sound limits, according to the project’s application. Currently, that means an exterior limit of 45 A-weighted decibels (dBa), roughly the volume in a library, according to IAC Acoustics, although the Public Service Board has proposed a new exterior sound limit of 42 dBa in the day and 35 dBa at night.

Still, the Dubies allege “the wind turbines proposed for the project will generate sufficient noise to make the identification of pipeline leaks extremely difficult,” and that the turbine sound “will create a loud unpleasant noise in areas where M& M employees must work.”

The Dubies’ further allegations include that the project’s solar shadow flicker will create an “unpleasant and potentially disorienting visual effect in areas where M& M employees must work,” although the project’s official shadow flicker analysis “conservatively” estimated shadow flicker from the project would only be visible 30 hours per year; that installing the turbine requires the construction of an access road “as wide as the interstate,” contributing to “harm to trees on M& M property caused by ice throw, windfall, die-back and loss of support”; that “blasting may throw rocks on to the M& M property”; and that developing Swanton Wind will reduce property values for M& M and the Dubies by “restricting their potential for development and recreational use.” Anthony Iarrapino, Swanton Wind’s original attorney, said, “These are just allegations.”

Iarrapino is not representing the Belisles in this case. “Because the Swanton Wind legal team already has its hands full with the permitting work necessary to obtain a Certificate of Public Good,” the Public Service Board’s “seal of approval” allowing construction of a project to go forward, “the Belisles have had to incur the expense of hiring another attorney to deal with the civil case,” Iarrapino said.

The Belisles’ attorney in this case, Ritchie Berger, said, “I’ll do my talking in court.” But Iarrapino said the Dubies’ claims “are consistent with fears and misinformation about the project put out there all along.”

He pointed to the Belisles’ own 12,000-tap organic sugaring operation near the project’s proposed site, and to the logo for Georgia Mountain Maples, a sugaring business located near the Georgia Mountain Community Wind Project, which superimposes ridgeline wind turbines over a large maple leaf.

“Any allegations that [Swanton Wind] is inconsistent with maple sugaring are particularly frustrating,” Iarrapino said. Berger has not yet filed a response to the allegations

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