St. Albans Messenger, March 2, 2017
Vermont Guard mischaracterizes FAA findings
By TOM BENTON
Messenger Staff Writer
SWANTON — The Vermont National Guard has defended its opposition to Swanton Wind despite the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s determination that the project would not be hazardous to air traffic and a similar conclusion by the New York and Vermont Air National Guards.
The Vermont National Guard is not the same as the Air National Guard, which has a separate administration.
The Vermont National Guard (VTNG) filed a motion to intervene in the Public Service Board (PSB)’s regulatory process concerning Swanton Wind on Feb. 23. Its motion listed three reasons for intervention, and opposition, including that “the FAA has released its aeronautical study and concluded that the structure as described exceeds obstruction standards and/or would have an adverse physical or electromagnetic interference effect upon navigable airspace or air navigation facilities.”
A visualization of the constructed Swanton Wind project, designed by LandWorks and included in the project’s Public Service Board application.
The FAA, in fact, determined the opposite. The FAA’s “aeronautical study revealed that the structure does not exceed obstruction standards and would not be a hazard to air navigation,” according to an FAA memorandum filed Dec. 20, 2015.
The VTNG’s state public affairs officer, Capt. Dyana K. Allen, said the VTNG’s state aviation officer had determined Swanton Wind would be hazardous to air traffic, and that the decision was not based on any official decision from the FAA.
“The conclusion that the state aviation officer made regarding the Swanton Wind Project is that there would be a negative impact to the Vermont National Guard Rotary Wing Operations,” Allen said via email, “not based on FAA paperwork, but on his subject matter expertise.”
The VTNG’s motion before the PSB says Swanton Wind’s construction “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 — operations which occur at all heights and at all times of the day or night.”
Swanton Wind provided the Messenger with a Sept. 2013 email correspondence between Swanton Wind representatives and the New York Air National Guard (NYANG), which seems to contradict the VTNG’s stated position.
In the email, dated Sept. 10, NYANG Lt. Col. Fred Tomaselli wrote, “After consulting with the [Vermont Air National Guard]… who are the primary users, I have attached a letter stating the ANG/ AF does not expect at this time to oppose your project even though it encroaches on VR1800,” a Vermont Air National Guard (VTANG) flight route.
“I commend you for checking with us so early in the process,” Tomaselli wrote. “Many developers still aren’t proactive in this area, which frequently makes it a very challenging situation for all.”
The NYANG memorandum attached to Tomaselli’s email stated Swanton Wind’s construction “would have only minimal to no negative effect on VR1800 users.” The memorandum reaffirmed that the New York and Vermont Air National Guards mutually reached that decision.
“Because of the location on the edge of the beginning of the first leg of the low-altitude route, along with the proximity to the city of St. Albans, aircraft would already normally be flying no lower than 1,000 feet at the point of passing the wind farm area,” the NYANG memorandum said. “It is also not a situation where the radar effects of wind farms should create any risk to training.”
Swanton Wind attorney Anthony Iarrapino said the NYANG correspondence “underscores our disappointment and confusion. It’s confusing and frustrating to see the Vermont National Guard taking a position that is certainly inconsistent with that of FAA aviation experts, and it’s fair to say the motion does not accurately characterize what the FAA has determined.”
Iarrapino said that in the year-and-a-half between the FAA’s official determination and now, “we have never heard from the Guard. They have never reached out to discuss their concerns.”
He questioned why the VTNG did not oppose the Georgia Mountain Community Wind project, a project in the same geographic area as Swanton Wind with turbines of roughly the same height. “There’s really only a difference of roughly 50 feet,” Iarrapino said. Georgia Mountain’s turbines stand a total of 426 feet high; Swanton Wind’s turbines would stand no more than 499 feet, according to permitting documents.
Additionally, Iarrapino said, Georgia Mountain’s base elevation is higher than Rocky Ridge, where Swanton Wind would be constructed.
The Messenger asked why the VTNG did not take a similar toward Georgia Mountain Community Wind that it is now taking toward Swanton Wind. Allen said, “As windmill operations become more prevalent, the Vermont National Guard is just now taking steps to look at these projects inclusively and how it could create hazards or negative impacts to Vermont Army National Guard Aviation Operations. The safety and security of our personnel and equipment is paramount.”
Iarrapino proposed another possibility: that Fairfield resident Brian Dubie and Swanton resident Joel Clark used their Air Guard connections to influence the VTNG’s decision. Dubie was a lieutenant colonel in the Vermont Air National Guard; Clark is a brigadier general in the Vermont Air National Guard. Iarrapino said, “I sincerely hope these individuals did not use their positions of authority to motivate the Guard.”
Dubie could not be reached for comment as of press time, but Clark offered a simple clarification. “I’m in the Air National Guard,” he said. “Not the Army Guard, which has filed this motion. Air and Army are two different animals.”
Clark said he was aware of the VTNG’s concerns, “but as to the decision itself, I was not involved.”
The VTNG filed its motion to intervene in the PSB proceedings Feb. 23, nearly one week after the Feb. 16 intervention deadline. The VTNG’s lawyer, Gonzalo Pinacho, said in the motion he was unavailable prior to the deadline.
The PSB has not ruled on the motion as of press time.