The developer of two solar projects in Rutland Town wants to block information from an environmental group — including photographic evidence of heavy use by wildlife in a now-forested site targeted for development — claiming the group obtained the information by trespassing on the firm’s property.
Michael Melone of Allco Renewable Energy Limited of New York City filed a formal objection with the Public Utility Commission on Wednesday to block the information submitted last week by Vermonters for a Clean Environment. Members Justin Lindholm and John Brabant visited the proposed site for Otter Creek 1 and Otter Creek 2 in September without being accompanied by Melone’s consultant.
Melone, in a sharply worded objection, said the two “investigators” from the environmental group trespassed, after being told earlier to stay off the property.
Melon, in a petition to the PUC, urged the board to reject any evidence presented by VCE. “Vermont agencies have refused to consider evidence when it is the direct product of improper conduct,” Melone wrote.
“ This is a case where the potential for encouragement of future unlawful conduct by VCE is manifest in this and other proceedings,” the lawyer wrote.
Not so, said Lindholm, who added at no time was he told by Allco’s consultant to stay off the property, which is not posted.
Allco wants to build two solar facilities side by side, one covering 17.5 acres and generating 4.9 megawatts of electricity, while the second would cover 10.8 acres and generate 2.2 megawatts. Most of the 56-acre site off Windcrest Road is forested.
Melone, who couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday, said Lindholm and Brabant had been given what he called “full access” in a separate visit to the site on June 27, about a month after the formal PUC site visit in May. In May, the Allco consultant told Lindholm it was “too wet and dangerous” to examine the 50-acre site.
Lindholm said Wednesday he was astonished by Melone’s accusations, and said he and Brabant were never told they couldn’t return to the property. He said VCE’s visit with Brad Wilson, an Allco consultant, was videotaped and recorded and did not include any warning to stay off the proposed solar sites.
The two men returned later, taking photos of extensive deer trails, heavy deer scat and heavily browsed areas.
Lindholm, who recently stepped down from membership on the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board, said the proposed solar site was “the most heavily browsed areas” he had ever seen in Vermont.
He said there were no sugar maple saplings on the site, which he said is evidence that deer use the area heavily as a travel corridor. The deer even have eaten some young buckthorn, Lindholm said Wednesday.
Lindholm said he wasn’t claiming the area was a deer yard, or prime habitat for bear, another species found on the property.
But he said it is clear the Allco land is a key travel corridor for wildlife caught between Route 7 and heavily fenced-off areas, such as General Electric.
Lindholm said the group wanted Allco to alter its plans to include a 100-foot-wide travel corridor between Otter Creek 1 and Otter Creek 2. He said such a corridor would allow deer to continue to travel in the area and also give them protection from predators, whether human or coyote.
Melone sent a letter Tuesday night to Annette Smith, the executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, forbidding the group from the solar sites.
Smith said she had not been part of the visits in question, but she said members of her group, in light of the Allco letter, would steer clear of the Allco property.