staff: ALYSSA SABETTO
Per 24 V.S.A. Section 4345a, regional planning commissions have a duty to provide comment on regionally significant projects, that because of size, location, or type of development require an Act 250 (land use), § 248 (energy generation), or § 248a (communications facility) permit. WRC also receives and reviews projects requiring Federal permits (i.e., FERC (hydropower), NRC (nuclear), NEPA (environmental impact statements related to federal lands or federally-funded projects). Following initial staff review and determination, relevant information is brought to the Project Review Committee (PRC) for consideration and input. The purpose of the Project Review Committee (PRC) is to:
- provide Commissioner input into the review of project applications identified as having potential regional importance or substantial regional impact;
- recommend position statements on behalf of the WRC; and
- monitor staff work related to project application reviews.
It is important to note that WRC neither supports nor opposes applications. The WRC is instead tasked with supporting the duly adopted Windham Regional Plan and its policies. The Windham Regional Plan, Implementation Section - Development Review, sets the guidelines for review. To that end, WRC asks three questions when a permit application comes before us: 1) What does the plan say? 2) What will the project do, as proposed? 3) Is the answer to question 2 consistent with the answer to question 1?
Value judgment is reserved for the process through which we develop the Windham Regional Plan. It is then and there that we ask what does the region value, and what goals, objectives and policies support those values. The value judgment has been made before any permit comes before us. The only judgment made when the WRC receives a permit application is about plan compliance. How do we do this?
It has long been the position of our town-appointed commissioners that the WRC’s role in state and federal permitting processes is to represent the Windham Regional Plan and its policies. This is also the role given us by statute. To that end, the commissioners who serve on our Project Review Committee first determine if a project is of regional significance in terms of the resources being impacted. This is defined by the Windham Regional Plan. The Committee then evaluates the development proposal and its constituent parts on the basis of the extent to which it is consistent with the duly adopted plan for the region. Having evaluated the proposal against the plan, the committee provides comments to all parties about whether the region’s policies are supported by the project and to what extent.
During a hearing we may ask questions of the applicant or their representative about the consistency of the project with the regional plan. We may also rebut written or oral comments made by the applicant if we feel their representation is inconsistent with the facts of the proposal and the consistency of the proposal with the regional plan. This may appear confrontational, but this is the nature of the formal, quasi-judicial procedures established by permitting authorities. The WRC issues no permits and has no determining authority on any permit approval. We advise the permitting authority what the plan says and what we believe the project as proposed will do. Primary focus is on:
- Information needs, issues and areas of non-conformance with the Windham Regional Plan and relevant town plan(s);
- Cumulative impacts that may occur; and
- Precedent setting characteristics.
The Committee also asks staff to reach out to the affected town or towns to determine what perspective they have on the project and if they need our assistance with their own review. If the answer is yes, we advise the town about the process. It is left to the town to present its own opinion about the extent to which a project is consistent with its own plan and/or bylaws. Affected towns are invited to attend PRC meetings at which significant projects in their town are being discussed.
This process underscores why the development of a plan – whether a regional plan or a town plan – is so important. It is through the planning process that community needs and values, and related goals, objectives and policies, are established. When a plan is approved the decision by the region or town as to what can and should be developed has, for all intents and purposes, been decided.
The District 2 Environmental Commission administers Act 250 for the Windham region the law in that. Each District Commission has three members and up to four alternates, all of whom are district residents appointed by the governor. The District Commission reviews each complete application carefully, determines if it is a major or minor project, and either grants a permit (for minor projects and generally with conditions), schedules a hearing (for major projects), or denies the permit. The Commission can also make specific findings of fact and conclusions of law that explain its decision in detail.
The Commission must base its review and decision on Act 250’s 10 criteria. Primarily, these focus on the development or subdivision’s projected impacts on air and water quality, water supplies, traffic, educational and municipal services, and historic and natural resources, including scenic beauty and necessary wildlife habitat. Developments must also conform to local and regional land-use plans.
By law, parties to an Act 250 hearing include the applicant, the municipality and its planning commission, the regional planning commission, and affected state agencies. Adjoining property owners and other persons or organizations whose interests may be affected by the proposed project may also petition the District Commission for party status.
After a District Commission makes its decision, any party to the hearing may appeal the decision to the Vermont Environmental Court. Decisions of the Environmental Court may be appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court. Act 250 permits do not supersede or replace the requirements of other local and state permits.
For more information about Act 250 and to access the Act 250 database please visit the Natural Resources Board Act 250 page. Please note that all District 2 Act 250 materials are distributed electronically and accessible through the Act 250 database.
Section 248 and 248a
Section 248 of Title 30 requires companies to obtain approval from the Board before beginning site preparation or construction of electric transmission facilities, electric generation facilities and certain gas pipelines within Vermont. Section 248 also requires Board approval for some long-term contracts for purchasing power from outside Vermont and for some investments in transmission and generation facilities outside Vermont.
The Board has developed the Citizens' Guide to the Vermont Public Service Board's Section 248 Process to provide a general introduction to the process used by the Board to consider requests for approval pursuant to Section 248. It is not intended to provide all information necessary to participate in a Section 248 proceeding.
Members of the public interested in Section 248 proceedings may also find PSB Rule 5.400 useful as that rule clarifies certain facets of the Section 248 review process.
Section 248a of Title 30 Vermont Statutes Annotated authorizes the Board to issue a certificate of public good ("CPG") for communications facilities. The Board's Second Amended Order of 9/05/14 adopts standards and procedures governing the application and issuance of a CPG for these facilities.
FERC Relicensing of Connecticut River Dams
The current licenses for each of the Wilder, Bellows Falls, and the Vernon Hydroelectric Projects (TransCanada) and the Turners Falls Hydroelectric Project and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project (FirstLight) are set to expire in April, 2018. All projects utilize water from the Connecticut River to generate hydroelectric power. The licenses were issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for terms of 30-50 years, and TransCanada and FirstLight are currently seeking relicensing for these dams using FERC’s Integrated Licensing Process (ILP). Information and schedules for both relicensing processes are available at the following links:
Detailed information can be found by using the below docket numbers on the FERC elibrary.
Wilder Dam – P-1892
Bellows Falls Dam – P-1855
Vernon Dam – P-1904
Turners Falls Dam – P-1889
Deerfield Dam – P-2323
Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project – P-2485
The WRC has additional information packets available at the offices at 139 Main Street, Suite 505, Brattleboro, Vermont 05301. The Connecticut River Joint Commissions Inc also has information about the process available at their website here.