Cassadaga Wind requests certificate to begin tree clearing

Pictured here are Arkwright Wind’s turbines visible from Wentworth and Route 72 in Cassadaga.

CASSADAGA — Residents have less than one week to participate in the proceeding of Cassadaga Wind, LLC’s request to amend their Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need to begin clearing trees for the 48 planned turbines in the town of Arkwright, Charlotte and Cherry Creek. For reasons related to construction milestones, meeting commercial obligations and minimizing interference with construction, Cassadaga Wind has requested permission to begin clearing as early as April 1, instead of the board’s original stipulation of Nov. 1.

The certificate, which was granted by the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment nearly one year ago, acknowledged the impact that the turbines will have on bat and bird species nearby. According to the certificate, the 48 turbines will result in a permanent loss of 46.4 acres of forested land. Seasonal surveys conducted by Cassadaga Wind showed that several bat species inhabit the area including the big brown/silver-haired bat, eastern red bat, tri-colored bat, hoary bat and the northern long-eared bat (NLEB), which is in the area during fall migration periods.

The certificate notes that the DEC has designated all New York bat species, except the big brown bat, as species of concern and that the NLEB is a threatened species under both New York state law and federal law.

“Based upon the record, the Examiners concluded that the Project can be expected to, at a minimum, kill 516 bats annually and 15,480 bats over the 30-year operational life of the Project,” the certificate reads. “In addition, siting of Project facilities could permanently eliminate up to 77.3 acres of habitat and roosting areas from the Project area, including that used by bats.”

The certificate notes that environmental conservation laws prohibit the “take” (killing), whether intentional or unintentional, of any threatened or endangered species such as NLEB. The siting board stipulates that any applicant that cannot completely avoid a take must provide a mitigation plan that will result in a net conservation benefit to the species.

Due to this law, the siting board, in condition no. 147, prohibits Cassadaga Wind from clearing trees from April 1 to Nov. 1: “…To reduce mortality to nesting/roosting birds and bats, all tree clearing activities (except for hazard tree removal) shall be conducted between November 1 and April 1 and does not include trees less than or equal to 3 inches in diameter at breast height (DBH).”

Additional measures include Cassadaga Wind’s June 15, 2018 NLEB Net Conservation Benefit Plan to slow turbine blades to 5.0 m/s for 30 minutes before sunset and 30 minutes after sunrise, when temperatures are greater than 10 degrees celsius from July 1 through Oct. 1, when bats are more active. By doing so, Cassadaga Wind says it would, “reduce potential risk of NLEB mortality by 80 percent relative to fully operating turbines, therefore the Facility is estimated to take up to 18.9 NLEBs over the 30-year assumed life of the Facility.”

Despite the certificate’s condition limiting Cassadaga Wind’s tree clearing period, on Friday, Cassadaga Wind filed a petition with the siting board to amend the certificate to allow forest clearing during the prohibited months.

Cassadaga Wind also filed a new Net Conservation Benefit Plan on Friday that explains how the company will reduce impacts to roosting bats during the forest-clearing process. Plans include leaving all snag and cavity trees uncut (unless removal is necessary to protect people or property) until an “Environmental Monitor” conducts a survey for bats exiting the trees. These trees will be removed within 24 hours of observation. No known or documented roost trees or any trees within a 150-foot radius of a documented summer occurrence may be cut. Lastly, “If any bats are observed flying from a tree or on a tree that has been cut, clearing activities within 150 feet of the tree will be suspended and DEC Wildlife staff will be notified as soon as possible.”

The plan also says that the aforementioned environmental monitor will be on site during all tree-clearing activities, and if any bat activity is noted, a stop work order will be issued until the DEC authorizes otherwise.

In their amendment request, Cassadaga Wind concludes by saying anyone wishing to participate in the proceeding on the amendment must contact Kathleen Burgess, secretary to the New York State Public Service Commission, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12223-1350. Any comments on the petition must be received by Burgess no later than Feb. 10. The petition can be found on the Department of Public Service’s website at http://www.dps.ny.gov/ by searching case number 14-F-0490.

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