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Court Hears Challenge To Seneca Mountain Wind Permit

Vermont Law School sign on a fall day in October 2012.
Toby Talbot
Associated Press FIle
The Vermont Supreme Court heard arguments on Seneca Mountain Wind during its annual session at the Vermont Law School.

Opponents of a Northeast Kingdom wind project have asked the Vermont Supreme Court to overturn a permit to install test towers on Seneca Mountain. Their arguments center around balloons and aesthetics.

In their annual session at the Vermont Law School, justices heard arguments involving a Public Service Board decision to allow a wind developer to erect four test towers.

The towers would be up to 200’ high and located in the towns of Brighton, Ferdinand and Newark.

Attorney Brooke Dingledine, arguing for opponents of the project, told the court that the Public Service Board didn’t properly consider the impact the towers will have on the scenic landscape.

She said that’s because opponents weren’t permitted to loft balloons at the proposed sites to assess how visible the towers would be.

“How does one raise an issue about a criterion if they’re not permitted to develop the evidence necessary to put in for the court’s consideration?” she asked the justices.

Chief Justice Paul Reiber answered with his own query. “It’s a question of whether it’s a substantial issue or not, right?” he asked Dingledine.

Justice John Dooley raised a similar point, telling Dingeldine that the Public Service Board had considered aesthetics in making its decision.  

“I understand you couldn’t put in all the evidence you wanted, but it was addressed. So it wasn’t that you had no say about it,” Dooley said.

When it was time for Seneca Wind to defend the Public Service Board decision, Justice Beth Robinson asked the developer’s attorney if it seemed odd for the board to rule out gathering more information about scenic impact by saying there was no substantial impact.

“Therefore you don’t get to go on the property and do a balloon test for the purpose of helping us determine whether there’s an aesthetic issue. Isn’t that kind of circular?” Robinson said.

Seneca Wind attorney Karen Tyler said basically the opponents failed to convince the board that there was a good reason to collect more information.

“What the appellants had the opportunity to do was provide information to the board during the public comment process that could have persuaded the board that more exploration of the issue was required,” Tyler told the court.

The arguments before the court revolved around aesthetic concerns, but opponents also claim wind development on Seneca Mountain would be harmful to wildlife and hurt economic development in the area.

Seneca Wind's plans call for the eventual construction of about 20 turbines.

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