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94 posts categorized "Environment" Feed

June 11, 2012

F-35 Supporters Running Ads Downplaying Noise Concerns

Lockheed-f-35-lightning-iiMore than 125 Vermonters — some of them well-known business leaders — have signed on to a newspaper advertisement in support of basing the Air Force's F-35 jet fighter at the National Guard station at Burlington International Airport.

The ad downplays opponents' concerns about the noise the planes would generate and emphasizes what the signers say would be the economic benefits of deploying up to two dozen F-35s in the Burlington area.

Decibel levels likely to be experienced by many nearby residents would exceed safe thresholds for a total of only six minutes per day, states the ad, which ran in half-page form in Sunday's Burlington Free Press and is scheduled to appear this week in South Burlington's Other Paper.

Calculating that it takes 30 seconds for a departing F-35 to soar out of hearing range, the ad says six of the planes would take off at 9 a.m. and again at 2 p.m. every day. Retired restaurateur Gary Farrell, who says he wrote the ad on the basis of information provided by the Vermont Air Guard, suggested in an interview on Monday that "most people are inside buildings during those times — working or going to school."

Continue reading "F-35 Supporters Running Ads Downplaying Noise Concerns" »

May 04, 2012

Vermont Becomes First State in Country to Ban Fracking

Lm-frackingVermont lawmakers put the kibosh on a controversial method of drilling for natural gas today, making Vermont the first state in the country to ban hydraulic fracturing (known more commonly simply as "fracking"). The ban earned final legislative approval today in a 103-36 vote in the House of Representatives, and is on its way to Gov. Peter Shumlin's desk.

Fracking is a method of extracting natural gas by injecting water, sand and chemicals into dense underground rock formations. The oil and gas industry loves it — fracking opened up vast reserves of natural gas that was previously too difficult or expensive to extract. But conservationists have raised the alarm, pointing to problems with groundwater contamination, waste water disposal and even earthquakes in places where fracking is underway. 

Seven Days covered the debate most recently in February, shortly after the House passed a three-year moratorium on fracking. At the time, lobbyists opposed to the practice were angling for even tougher restrictions — and in the end they prevailed. 

Continue reading "Vermont Becomes First State in Country to Ban Fracking" »

May 01, 2012

Wind Opponent Gets Bird's-Eye View of Lowell Development

DSC_7788The logistics of snapping aerial photographs of Green Mountain Power's Kingdom Community Wind project weren't all that difficult, says amateur photographer Steve Wright. 

"I got in a plane ... stuck my upper body out the window, and pushed the shutter," says Wright, a Craftsbury resident who has pushed hard against the 21-turbine industrial wind project atop the Lowell mountains.

Easy enough, right? 

It's what came after that was difficult for Wright to bear. He's been hiking in the Lowell mountains since 1971, but now "this older body" prevents Wright from visiting. So he took to the air with pilots from Newport-based Lakeview Aviation to see for himself how construction for the ridgeline wind development had changed the once-familiar landscape.

"I was concentrating on the shots, and getting the shots, and that allowed me to work without losing it," Wright says. "But I have to tell you, when we turned and headed back, I was choked up."

Wright captured the bird's-eye view of the development from between 500 and 1000 feet above the construction site, where GMP is rushing to complete the wind project by the end of the calendar year. Wright finds himself on one side of a fierce debate over wind power in Vermont that pits environmentalists worried about habitat destruction against environmentalists worried about renewable energy. Wright retired two years ago after a long career in environmental education, and says his long emotional connection to the Lowell mountains spurred him to action when he learned about the GMP project.

He took to the sky to document, Wright says, the extent to which the landscape is being altered to make way for wind turbines. 

DSC_7873"It’s my contention that the carbon emissions reduction and the amount of electricity that’s gained from these projects are not nearly worth the landscape alteration that occurs." Wright says. "That’s based on my fundamental belief that the best climate change action that we can take in Vermont is to keep our landscape in one piece."

Opponents of the Lowell project realize it's too late to prevent development on their local ridgeline, but Wright hopes his photographs might help neighbors near other proposed projects — such as the Seneca Mountain project near Brighton and the Grandpa's Knob project in Pittsford — think twice. He has another motivation for snapping the aerial photographs: Wright says some may be used to dispute trespassing charges brought against six protestors arrested for trespassing in December.

DSC_7883GMP spokesman Robert Dostis counters that Wright's photographs only present a snapshot of a moment in time, and that much of the disturbed landscape will be revegetated after construction wraps up. 

"If you take pictures of an active construction site, it’s not going to look all that pretty," says Dostis. "Once all the slopes have been revegetated, they will all be covered with green."

Wright isn't convinced that the trouble will end there. "When you cut a big road like that into an existing, intact ridgeline, you are altering the entire ecology of the system," he says. 

Photographs by Steve Wright

April 27, 2012

Champlain Parkway Wins Act 250 Approval — But Not a Permit

AllanHuntBurlington's long-stalled Champlain Parkway project took a big step toward reality today.

In a 63-page ruling issued this morning, the District #4 Environmental Commission of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources has found that the South End highway project "will not cause or result in a detriment to public health, safety or general welfare" under Act 250.

Download the ruling here.

However, the commission stopped short of issuing an Act 250 permit because it is waiting for state-issued stormwater permits.

Still, the decsion is a major milestone for a project conceived 45 years ago as a four-lane, limited access highway called the "Southern Connector." At one time, the highway was slated to run alongside Lake Champlain and connect with the northern Beltline highway.

As approved (or nearly approved), the revamped Champlain Parkway is instead a two-lane, pedestrian-friendly urban boulevard that will have new trees, sidewalks, new turning lanes and crosswalks. It will finally connect the abandoned highway off I-189 with Pine Street through Burlington's South End.

A small but dedicated group of property owners have fought the project, viewing it as outdated, expensive and unnecessary. While the parkway would accomplish its goal of diverting truck traffic off residential side streets, congested intersections in a low-income neighborhood — particularly along Pine Street at Maple and King streets — would barely improve under the plan.

Continue reading "Champlain Parkway Wins Act 250 Approval — But Not a Permit" »

April 17, 2012

Air Force Releases Draft Environmental Report on F-35 "Beddown" In Burlington

300px-CF-1_flight_testFeeling the need for speed? Cue Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone" and roll the testosterone-releasing Top Gun video montage.

The U.S. Air Force has just released the results of its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for its proposed "beddown" of F-35A Lightning II fighter jets at Burlington International Airport sometime in the next five years. The Air Force's executive summary and Parts 1 and 2 of the full draft EIS are now available online for public review and comment. A public hearing on the draft EIS is scheduled for Monday, May 14, from 5 to 8 p.m. at South Burlington High School.

In July 2010, the Air Force announced that Burlington International Airport had been chosen as one of two "preferred locations" for the F-35A strike fighters, which are designed and built by Lockheed Martin. Under two proposed scenarios, the Vermont Air National Guard would replace all 18 of its F-16 jets with either 18 or 24 new F-35As.

Based on a quick-and-dirty review of the draft EIS, here are a few of the salient findings:

  • Hours of operation: The new jets would employ similar takeoff and landing patterns as VTANG's current F-16s and would not fly between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. The Air Force anticipates that by 2020, the 18 F-35As would fly 5486 flights per year from Burlington International under scenario 1, or 7296 flights under scenario 2.
  • Noise: Under both scenarios 1 and 2, the overall area affected by noise levels of 65 decibels or louder would increase, as would the total residential areas subjected to noise levels of 65 to 85 dB. The report notes that "some residential areas would be newly subject to noise above 65 dB." In certain out-of-state regions of routine flight, including parts of New Hampshire and Maine, "persons on the ground could perceive an increase in noise. Such increases would likely add to the percentage of the population annoyed by aircraft noise. Persons recreating in special land use areas, such as White Mountain National Park, may consider additional noise especially intrusive."
  • Air Quality: Under scenario 1 (18 new fighters), pollutant emissions would "decrease [or remain the same] for six of seven pollutant categories;" under scenario 2 (24 new jets) four of seven pollutant emissions would decrease or remain the same. For other categories of pollutants, "minor increases" would result. The Air Force further claims that "neither... Scenario 1 nor 2 would introduce emissions that would deteriorate regional air quality; the area would remain in attainment for all federal and state air quality standards."
  • Safety: "The F-35A is a new type of aircraft; historical trends show that mishap rates of all types decrease the longer an aircraft is operational and as flight crews and maintenance personnel learn more about the aircraft’s capabilities and limitations. The F-35A will have undergone extensive testing prior to the time the beddown would occur. In addition, the F-35A engine is the product of 30 years of engineering, lessons learned from previous single-engine aircraft, and an extensive, rigorous testing program. Overall, the risks of a mishap are not expected to increase substantially."
  • Biological Resources: Under scenarios 1 and 2, the Air Force claims that although noise from the aircrafts' operations would increase, "the wildlife in the area of Burlington [International Airport] have become habituated to it. As such, no impacts to wildlife, threatened and endangered species, wetlands, or plants would occur. Decreased airfield operations would result in a decreased opportunity for bird/wildlife-aircraft strikes to occur. Similarly, use of higher altitudes by the F-35As would reduce potential strikes in altitude zones where birds mostly fly."
  • Military presence in Vermont: Under scenario 1, the Vermont Air National Guard would not see a change in the number of personnel or overall military payrolls. "With no additional personnel, the scenario would not impact regional employment, income, or regional housing market." Scenario 2 would result in an increase of 266 military personnel, and an annual increase in salaries of approximately $3.4 million. "Either scenario would expend an estimated $2.34 million in 2016 for proposed modification projects. The Burlington area would likely provide the skilled workers for the temporary construction jobs."

As Seven Days' Kevin Kelley reported in October 2010, proponents of the Burlington beddown, including all three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation, argue that the F-35s will better protect the country, generate jobs and support the ongoing mission of the Green Mountain Boys. Meanwhile, opponents, especially those living near the airport, argue against the deployment on environmental grounds, charging that the louder aircraft will impact Chittenden County’s air with benzene emissions. Still others see the F-35 primarily as a costly and unnecessary expense at a time when the federal government should be scaling back its massive spending on defense.

When contacted Tuesday afternoon, Lt. Col. Lloyd Goodrow, public information officer with the Vermont Air National Guard, said he had not yet had a chance to review the draft EIS and thus couldn't comment on its contents. He did say, however, that it's important for the Vermont National Guard to "remain neutral in the process" at this time when "public opinion is of paramount importance."

"I'm just glad it's out," said Goodrow. "We're very pleased that the Air Force is considering us for the aircraft, but none of this will happen without the public's input."

The Air Force will be accepting written comment through June 1, 2012; both written and oral comments will be considered equally.  Written comments can be submitted via U.S. Postal Service to HQ ACC/A7PS, 129 Andrews Street, Suite 337, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia 23665-2769, ATTN: Mr. Nick Germanos. Oral comments will be recorded by a stenographer at each of the hearing meetings.

March 19, 2012

Montpelier Playwright Tackles Ridgeline Wind Debate

DSC_3248Feuding neighbors. Life-altering decisions. High tempers and even higher stakes. If Vermont’s pitched debate about ridgeline wind power doesn’t have the makings of a drama, I don’t know what does.

Lesley Becker thought so, too. The Montpelier playwright turned to the conversation about wind power in the Northeast Kingdom for inspiration for her latest play, Winds of Change. The play makes its debut on March 27 as part of the Fourth Tuesday Reading Series sponsored by the Vermont Playwrights Circle

Becker’s recipe goes something like this: Take one powerful utility company, add a landowner who has fallen on hard times, and mix. Her two-act play examines life in a town not unlike Lowell, Vt., before and after the installation of a utility-scale wind project. 

Becker stumbled on the story largely by happenstance. She works as a prevention coalition coordinator in the Northeast Kingdom, and about two years ago she was helping a group of teens in Craftsbury design a media campaign to discourage underage drinking. That’s how she found herself at a select board meeting where she heard an expert testify about the proposed Kingdom Community Wind project, now well on its way to completion.

“I was very inspired by the local people who were willing to take on this battle between the little guys and the big guys,” says Becker. She has an opinion — and not a favorable one — about the Lowell wind development, and expects that readers will pick up on the bias in her play. Becker says she didn't come at the project as journalist, but instead as a playwright trying to tease out the experiences of people living in and around the proposed project — those in favor and those against. 

Becker has been writing plays for eight or nine years, by her estimation, though she established a background in theater earlier in her life. She turned her back on that world for a time, disillusioned about theater’s relevancy.

“It seemed like theater was very far from what was important to anybody and what could make a difference,” she says.

She’s changed her tune now, having regained some faith in what the medium — and, she hopes, Winds of Change — can do. 

“I want to try to honor the people [in Lowell], and shed some light on the issues,” Becker says. “It would be very powerful and effective if it got out to enough people to be educational.”

Becker’s play will be read by a contingent of actors on March 27 at 7 p.m. at the Lost Nation Theater in Montpelier. The event is free and open to the public.

Photo by Kathryn Flagg

March 08, 2012

Eden and Lowell Residents Say No to Superfund Listing

MinesOn Town Meeting Day, residents of Lowell and Eden resoundingly rejected a proposal to back a Superfund designation for the Vermont Asbestos Group mine that straddles the border of the two towns at Belvidere Mountain.

When I spoke with Lowell selectman Alden Warner a few weeks ago about this proposition, he told me that if he were a betting man, he'd wager the proposals would fail. By this weekend, when Candace Page reported on the stalemate for the Burlington Free Press, there wasn't much sense in wagering. By then, the outcome seemed certain. As the Free Press reported:

“They are going to shoot it down like a bullet,” is how Eden landowner Leonard Prive of Burlington put it last week.

Warner ... is “100 percent convinced” the proposal will fail.

If rhetoric at recent meetings and in email exchanges is any indication, some residents of the two communities are ready to ride the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency out of town on a rail, metaphorically speaking, tar and feathers optional.

And so they did. Only three residents in Eden supported the listing — a drop in the bucket compared to the 106 against. In Lowell, the tally was 103 against and 38 in favor.

Continue reading "Eden and Lowell Residents Say No to Superfund Listing" »

March 02, 2012

Can a Film Bridge Gaps in the Energy Debate?

JonbiopicbMark your calendars: March 21 is Vermont Energy Independence Day, and proponents of the movement want to hear from Vermonters far and wide about how the state should tackle issues of energy production in the future.

What's that, you say? You've never heard of Vermont Energy Independence Day? Don't fret: You've still got a chance to get in on the ground floor. This year marks the first-ever event of its kind, and it lands, not coincidentally, on the day Vermont Yankee's license would have expired. 

"It was back in November or December that we hatched this idea," says Jon Erickson, a professor with the University of Vermont's Gund Institute for Ecological Economics and a member of the team behind Bright Blue EcoMedia. The Bright Blue producers knew about the significance of the date, and figured that at least some other activists in the state would glom on to the timing, so they crowned March 21 Vermont Energy Independence Day. "So far," he says, "the gamble's paid off."

Continue reading "Can a Film Bridge Gaps in the Energy Debate?" »

February 20, 2012

Biomass or Biomess? Activists Protest Latest Biomass Development

Lm-mcneilThe debate over burning trees for electricity is heating up again as a wood-fueled power plant moves closer to construction in Fair Haven. The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation issued an air quality permit last week to Massachusetts-based Beaver Wood Energy to construct a biomass generation plant and accompanying wood pellet manufacturing facility in a part of Vermont that already suffers from the highest asthma rates in the nation.

Vermont is experiencing something of a biomass boom. Thirteen percent of the state's K-12 schools already heat with wood. Developers are eyeing a once-shuttered industrial site in North Springfield for the location for a new plant that would generate both heat and electricity.

The Fair Haven permit approval comes just a few weeks after the Biomass Energy Development Working Group released its final report to the Legislature, detailing 47 recommendations for encouraging the growth of Vermont's biomass industry while also maintaining forest health. Among the report's recommendations: encourage wood pellet production; incentivize the biomass industry with tax credits, low-interest loans, or renewable energy credits; and establish wood procurement standards.

The question isn't if biomass use should be expanded, according to the report, but "how?" Gov. Peter Shumlin's Comprehensive Energy Plan states that although the state's forest resources require careful management to remain sustainable "it is clear that Vermont is poised to expand its use of biomass significantly in the coming decades."

But tensions are smoldering over biomass in general and the Fair Haven plant in particular. Supporters sell the plant as a clean and renewable power source that would create 50 full-time jobs and generate badly-needed tax revenue for Fair Haven. Josh Schlossberg, who is based in East Montpelier and writes a monthly national newsletter addressing concerns about biomass, says resistance is brewing behind the scenes in Fair Haven, but declined to reveal opponents' strategies for blocking the proposed plant.

Meanwhile, critics such as Chris Matera of Massachusetts Forest Watch say Vermont is guilty of "big time hypocrisy" for green-lighting a big carbon emitter the same week it joined a multi-state lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency over soot pollution. 

Photo: McNeil Generating Station in Burlington, Vermont’s largest biomass power plant, courtesy of Chris Matera.

Continue reading "Biomass or Biomess? Activists Protest Latest Biomass Development" »

February 14, 2012

'Troublemaker' Bill McKibben Talks Keystone XL With Colbert

Bill_McKibben_at_RIT-3Vermont's own globetrotting, carbon-fighting climate activist Bill McKibben cropped up on national television again last night, this time in a repeat visit to the Colbert Report. By way of snappy introduction, Colbert — eyes gleaming gleefully — had this to say of his visitor: "My guest Bill McKibben believes in global warming... so I'm going to deny that he exists."

McKibben was talking up the latest effort by and a coalition of environmental advocates to block the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. He's has been making headlines in his crusade to stop the proposed pipeline, which would carry oil from Canadian tar sands to Gulf of Mexico refineries. In August, McKibben was arrested in front of the White House at the beginning of a massive series of civil-disobedience protests undertaken by the environmental movement. The two-week sit-in led to the arrests of 1253 protestors and ended in what environmentalists considered a victory: In January the Obama administration denied a permit for the project.

Then, yesterday, came this bad news: On Monday afternoon, Senate Republicans filed an amendment to the transportation bill that would authorize the Keystone XL pipeline. Once again, environmentalists rallied in opposition to the project, which has inspired what some observers call a "too rare unity" in the movement. They set a goal to gather 500,000 signatures on an anti-pipeline petition in 24 hours — then blew that goal out of the water in seven hours instead.

Continue reading "'Troublemaker' Bill McKibben Talks Keystone XL With Colbert" »

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