SWANTON, VT — The Vermont Army National Guard has filed to intervene before the Public Service Board in opposition of Swanton Wind.
The Vermont National Guard (VTNG)’s state judge advocate, Gonzalo Pinacho, filed the motion to intervene Feb. 23.
In the Public Service Board (PSB)’s regulatory process, formal participants beyond the petitioner — in this case, Swanton Wind, LLC — are known as “intervenors.” If a party’s motion to intervene is approved, that party may formally participate in the PSB process.
The VTNG’s motion outlines three core concerns motivating its opposition to Swanton Wind — basically, that the project “will significantly and negatively impact the operations of [the VTNG] rotary wing flights in the Northern Champlain Valley.”
The motion states, “Placement of several of these enormous structures in the proposed Swanton locations will exponentially increase the potential hazards to our service members and to equipment that the VTNG most frequently uses to assist with search and rescue, support to civilian authorities and counter-drug operations.”
That’s because the project’s proposed construction site is within the VTNG’s Maintenance Test Flight (MTF) area, according to the motion. MTF operations test the functionality of equipment in the environment in which it was intended for use. The motion says those operations are “exceptionally demanding,” requiring flights at various altitudes and airspeeds at any time of day or night.
The VTNG has used the northern Champlain valley as its primary MTF area north of Burlington International Airport for more than 25 years, according to the motion, “due to its lack of flight hazards and suitable forced landing areas.”
The motion also expresses concern that Swanton Wind’s construction will jeopardize “search and rescue operations that may be required in the area.”
“The giant structures will inevitably present risk of accident to any aircraft that may have to make low altitude approaches while searching for persons or pets, or while attempting to rescue those who may have become lost or who may have suffered accident,” the motion says. “In any event, the several structures will require aircraft to alter flight paths, and otherwise distract from the search and rescue operation.”
The VTNG’s motion also asserts that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s aeronautical study concluded Swanton Wind’s proposed structure “exceeds obstruction standards and/or would have an adverse physical or electromagnetic interference effect upon navigable airspace or air navigation facilities.”
Swanton Wind’s PSB application includes the FAA’s “final determination” regarding the project, submitted Dec. 20, 2015. The FAA determined “the structure does not exceed obstruction standards and would not be a hazard to air navigation,” provided the project is marked with lighting according to FAA regulations and that its turbines do not exceed their proposed maximum height of 499 feet.
Still, the VTNG motion states the project would “directly interfere with instrument landing at the Franklin County State Airport (KFSO),” because Swanton Wind would be constructed within the designated approach area for landing at KFSO’s Runway 1.
The VTNG is investigating the discrepancy concerning the FAA determination. Its response will be the subject of a Messenger follow-up.
The deadline for intervention in the Swanton Wind case was Feb. 17. Pinacho was absent during the filing period, according to the VTNG’s motion, but he has asked the PSB to approve the motion just the same.
The motion concludes that the VTNG’s MTF operations “are essential to the Swanton community and the greater Vermont area because they relate to training of pilots and personnel who engage in searches and rescues during storms and other catastrophes; who support civilian authorities, including police, fire, ambulance and other first responder personnel; and who help fight the narcotics crisis that has plagued Vermont.”
Title 30, Section 248 of the Vermont Statutes requires the PSB’s regulatory process for any gas or electric utility. The ideal outcome of the process for developers is a “Certificate of Public Good,” essentially approval for construction. Swanton Wind’s PSB review is scheduled to continue into October.