Speak up, Vermonters. This state could become the first in the nation to allow 300-foot wind towers along the ridge lines of national forest land around Searsburg in southern Vermont. That is a serious proposition and one that demands public input and scrutiny.
Deerfield Wind -- a subsidy of French firm ENEXCO -- has proposed building 20 to 30 such towers on an 80-acre wind farm on these public lands. This would provide enough power to serve up to 16,000 homes.
The U.S. Forest Service is being appropriately cautious with the proposal, planning 18 months of environmental study and holding public meetings on the proposal. Several significant issues are worthy of public consideration, and people ought to tune in and speak out.
First, this is public land that belongs to all Americans. So important does the public consider this property that it has been designated for special protection to ensure future generations can enjoy the wild space.
Do we now want to see pristine ridge lines turned into pincushions with enormous white turbines whirring along the skyline? Most people support clean energy sources, but at what price? Is this the vision Americans had of its national forests when these wild places were set aside for our children and their children to enjoy?
There is a place for wind power in the clean energy mix, but pristine ridge lines that are home to important wildlife and offer spectacular natural vistas are not the place for turbines.
All the questions that apply to commercial development of wind farms on private land apply here -- even more so given public ownership of this property. How will birds and other wildlife be impacted by the project? What protections are in place for the important bear habitat located here? What other threatened species rely on land to survive, and therefore might face special threats?
The project will require about 4 miles of road into this area. Roads by their very nature are worrisome because they erode the natural space, divide and fragment the land, and make future development that much easier. Is that acceptable for this site?
How much power will actually be generated by these towers, and is that amount worth the environmental degradation that can be expected? How visible will these towers be and at what distance? How noisy are the turbines?
These are just some of the questions the public should be asking as the U.S. Forest Service considers this proposal. Commercial use of the land is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, sustainable timbering has been acceptable. However, windfarms on the high ridge lines pose real environmental risks.
The Forest Service has two meetings set next month in southern Vermont. It ought to add others around the state and seek comment nationally because everyone owns this land.
Wind energy is clean, safe power that offsets the nation's need for dirtier sources such as coal. Encouraging wind-power production is sound public policy.
Like all things, there are places where these farms belong -- and places they do not. Vermonters should make it clear that publicly owned ridge lines should not become home to enormous, whirring wind turbines. To learn more Public meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. on Aug. 3 at the Grand Summit Resort Hotel at Mount Snow in West Dover, and Aug. 4 at the Whitingham Elementary School in Jacksonville.