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Antrim Wind easement would protect part of Willard Mountain ridgeline

ANTRIM — With a final decision on the approval of a 10-turbine wind facility on the horizon, the developer Antrim Wind has secured conservation agreements that would permanently protect part of the view of Willard Mountain from Willard Pond.

In Jan. 2012, Antrim Wind reached conservation agreements with four private landowners that would protect 685 acres of forest land in Antrim, including a section of the Willard Mountain ridgeline, all of which is conditional upon the project’s approval. Now, the company has reached an additional agreement for another parcel of land at the summit of the mountain, which would conserve an additional 123 acres.

Jack Kenworthy, the lead project manager for the Antrim Wind project, said in an interview Wednesday that Antrim Wind made a concentrated effort to conserve the additional acres just in the last few months. They started the process after listening to concerns of intervenors in the approval process over the past few months.

“We’ve been in hearings, and in the course of those hearings, we heard from a number of parties with concerns, including the impact on the views from Willard Pond. In part, this was an effort we undertook in response to that, to provide benefit that will last well beyond the life of the project,” he said. “This area is visible from Willard pond. Our view was the 685 acres, relative to the 60 acres that would be directly impacted, was a more than adequate conservation package, but we wanted to take these additional steps. We’ve worked very hard to work with landowners to conserve the highest areas of Willard Mountain.”

The new easement would join with the previously-conserved 685 acres. But the new conservation has an additional stipulation that makes it especially valuable, said N.H. Audubon Trustee Francie Von Mertens of Peterborough.

First of all, she said the easement would permanently conserve a portion of the summit of Willard Mountain, which is highly visible from Willard Pond, a local scenic spot. The land also encompasses two of the proposed wind turbines. While all of the land the turbines will reside on will be conserved after 50 years, when the turbines are decommissioned, the new conservation agreement forbids residential as well as commercial development.

The earlier easements allow for residential development on the ridgeline, said Von Mertens. The construction of the wind farm and access road will ease the way for future construction down the road, according to Von Mertens. This is a key concern of the Audubon Society, Von Mertens said. Preventing commercial development for a portion of the ridge is a step in the right direction, she said, but she would like to see that protection extended.

“The good thing about this easement, which is different from the other four, is it doesn’t allow residential development,” she said. “That’s good news to hear. The fact that at turbines nine and 10, there can’t be residential development, that is progress. But now we have eight more to go.”

Along with the 685 acres the company has already reached a conservation agreement on and the 40 acres that make up the land impact of the project — which would be conserved following the dismantling of the project — a total of 808 acres will be conserved at the end of the project’s lifespan.

The Harris Center will hold the easements for all of the conserved acres.

Before any of the land can be conserved, however, the project would have to be approved for construction by the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee. The SEC is a state committee made up of members of multiple regulatory boards that has jurisdiction over the approval of the Antrim Wind Project. The committee is currently reviewing the testimonies collected during the weeks of public hearings on the issue, and intervenors in the process have an additional week to submit final written arguments before the committee makes a decision, anticipated to be rendered at the beginning of February.

“We’re looking forward to receiving a decision,” said Kenworthy. “We feel we’ve designed a project that’s a sound project, going beyond any other project in the state in technological advances and addressing conservation concerns. It’s been a long process, but the substance and merit of our application is very strong. We’re not building any transmission lines, have a low amount of ground impact, and have received strong support from the town.”

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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