Rick Webb | Highland New Wind in wetlands denial?

Although Highland New Wind Development has started construction on its 19-turbine, 39 MW wind project in Highland County’s remote Laurel Fork watershed, additional state and federal permits and review may be required for wetlands disturbance.

Highland New Wind Development has repeatedly revised its acknowledgement and delineation of wetlands. HNWD initially reported that there are no wetlands in the area where it proposes to cross Laurel Fork by directional drilling under the stream channel. Three different maps have since been presented to authorities, all changing the location, extent, and shape of the wetlands. The latest wetlands map is dated Aug. 6, 2009, three days after Highland County approved HNWD’s “final” site plan. The plan approved on Aug. 3 depicted a different wetlands area. 

Based on new information and conditions imposed on the project, permits for wetlands disturbance may now be required by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Previous determinations that permits are not required should no longer apply.

HNWD’s site plans indicated that equipment excavation pits required for directional drilling would be located about 10 feet from the stream – in locations that would not involve disturbance of a wetland area about 15-20 ft. from the stream. Two state agencies have now recommended setbacks that effectively require excavation in the wetlands area. The excavation pits are about 9 ft. wide, 15 ft. long, and deep enough to allow horizontal drilling 4 ft. below the streambed.

The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has recommended setbacks of 30-50 feet to avoid the potential for sedimentation of the stream and impacts to the native brook trout population. The Heritage Division of the Department of Conservation and Recreation has recommended setbacks of 10-20 meters to avoid impacts to state-listed rare plants. The State Corporation Commission previously directed HNWD to consult with and adopt recommendations of these agencies to avoid impacts to aquatic resources during construction.

It remains to be seen whether HNWD will work with the agencies to resolve this issue now or seek to wait until the stream crossing work is underway. By starting construction work on other parts of this large project, HNWD could preclude effective environmental assessment and permit review, which is inconsistent with National Environmental Policy Act requirements, as the viability of the overall project depends on the work that must occur in the streams and wetlands.

Even if the agencies are unable to implement a rational permitting process, the developer should want this resolved before further commitments and investments are made.


Rick Webb heads up Virginia Wind. He can be reached at rwebb@vawind.org.



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