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Otten seeks to reduce safety zone size around wind turbines

File Photo This photograph, taken in Nov. 2011 at the GRP wind farm in Millsfield, looks north toward the Vestas wind turbines on Dixville Peak, where developer Les Otten of Dixville Capital proposes to quadruple the size of the Wilderness Ski Area bringing much-needed jobs to Cos County. File photo. (click for larger version)
March 05, 2014
BERLIN — County Commissioner Paul Grenier of Berlin relayed a request that he had received from ski developer Les Otten to his two fellow county commissioners at the county commissioners' meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 26.

Otten asked, via Grenier, for the trio's help in removing a major "stumbling block" to a proposal to quadruple the Wilderness Ski Area, associated with the redevelopment of The Balsams Grand Hotel, both located in the Unincorporated Place of Dixville.

Granite Reliable Power's permit now requires a 1,300-foot stay-out zone or setback around the base of each wind turbine.

Keeping this, as is, would require giving up too much potential skiable terrain, Otten told Grenier.

The developer would like to see the no-entry area reduced to 500 feet. He did not say how many turbines would be affected by the change or any other details about the proposed ski area expansion.

Otten signed an agreement on Feb. 11 as the principal of Dixville Capital of Me. with the Grand Hotel's ownership group — Dan Hebert and Dan Dagesse — "to establish a viable path forward for the redevelopment of the Balsams."

Grenier told chairman Tom Brady and clerk Rick Samson that Otten said that this proposed expansion is part of Phase I of a tentative three-phase plan to develop a four-season recreational destination resort in Dixville Notch.

The commissioners voted unanimously to support Otten's request to modify the existing conditions detailed in the state permit governing the safety rules under which the Granite Reliable Power wind farm operates.

The GRP wind farm is 75 percent owned by Brookfield Renewable Power, a Canadian energy firm, which, Grenier said, has apparently not been as forthcoming as Otten would like.

The remaining 25 percent is owned by Freshet Wind Energy LLC, of Lyme, associated with Wagner Timber Management.

Thirty-three 262-foot-tall wind towers, capable of generating a total of 99 megawatts of no-carbon electricity, now dot the ridgelines of Millsfield and Dixville.

Each turbine in the GRP wind farm measures 410 feet from its compact circular concrete base to the tip of one of its three slender-looking blades. The rotor diameter or "sweep" is 295 feet. The width of the base is 16 feet.

There are seven turbines — Nos. 1 to 7 — on Dixville Peak, but Grenier did not say how many Otten believes would present a problem to his potential plans.

Otten did not make public at this early planning stage what is likely to be included in Phases II and III.

He did tell Grenier that the overall project would result in 1,000 full-and part-time jobs and a ski area that would rival Killington, located in the Green Mountains of central Vermont.

According to its website, Killington boasts seven mountain peaks, including Pico Mountain at Killington, with 92 miles of diverse terrain, 22 lifts at Killington, plus seven at Pico Mountain, snowmaking covering some 600 acres of skiable terrain, plus an 18-hole championship golf, 45 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, and an active schedule of festivals and other tourist-pleasing entertainment.

Otten asked the commissioners' to support his effort to change the restrictions detailed in the permit issued by state Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) for the Granite Reliable Power wind farm.

SEC permits, called "certificates of site and facility," nearly always include specific conditions with which the developer-owner must comply.

Commissioner Samson noted that he had been snowmobiling recently near one of the turbines. "Ice shale," thrown off the blades onto the snow, was on site. However, he noted, gates are located approximately 500 feet from the turbines.

The 60-page-long permit the SEC issued to GRP addresses "Public Health and Safety:" "The Subcommittee finds that the siting, construction and operation of the (GRP) Project will not have an unreasonable adverse effect on public health or safety as long as certain conditions are applied to the Certificate.

"The relatively remote location of the site is a substantial factor in determining whether there will be an unreasonable adverse effect on public health or safety.

"The site is located in relative wilderness and concerns associated with wind turbine development, such as ice throw and noise, are substantially diminished.

"The location of the proposed facility is an area traditionally subject to commercial forestry endeavors. Although the site and the area around it is also used for recreational purposes by hikers and snowmobilers, the site is not located in an area that draws a substantial tourist population in comparison to other regions of the state.

"The remoteness of the site standing alone, however, cannot support a finding that there will be no unreasonable adverse effect on the public health and safety, unless the Applicant complies with certain health and safety conditions.

"The following conditions will be made part of the Certificate.

"First, a safety plan is necessary for the safe operation of the proposed facility. Therefore, prior to the commencement of construction, the Applicant, in cooperation with Coos County, shall prepare and implement a detailed safety and access plan providing, among other things, gate access protocols and methods to discourage persons from coming within 1,300 feet from any turbine location.

"Second, the Cohos Trail does draw hikers and is maintained through volunteer efforts. The Applicant, in cooperation with NH Fish & Game, shall use its best efforts to maintain the integrity of the Cohos Trail while also assuring the safety of the public using the trail. It is recognized that this will require the re-location of a portion of the Cohos Trail."

The final two conditions in this section require that the turbines cannot be climbable on their first 20 feet from the ground and that all applicable laws and rules shall be followed if and when the turbines are decommissioned.

A separate paper, a risk analysis of ice throw from wind turbines written by three German scientists of Cuxhaven, Germany, was also filed with the SEC.

Grenier explained that Otten promised that once plans for The Balsams' redevelopment and its expanded ski area are ready to go before the Planning Board for the Unincorporated Places that he would first make a presentation to the county commissioners.

The north-facing Wilderness Ski Area, opened on Dec. 26, 1966, featured a 3,210-foot-long double chairlift and a 750-foot novice T-Bar. It had eight trails on a vertical drop of 1,000 feet, plus a charming two-story base lodge.

A second T-Bar was added for the 1969-70 season,

Following the 2001-2002 season and the death of owner Neil Tillotson, the longer T-Bar was replaced with a new Partek triple chairlift. The Bungy T-Bar was also removed and replaced with a new Partek triple chairlift. Both were sold at auction in May 2012.

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