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Balsams Expansion: How Close May Skiers Get To Wind Turbines

This month the Coos Planning Board is expected to continue reviewing developer Les Otten’s plan to greatly expand the ski area. And, that's likely to include how close skiers can get to the wind turbines on some of those mountains.

The issue arises because Otten wants to give skiers the maximum vertical drop by getting them to the top of the mountains.

But in 2009 when the Site Evaluation Committee was considering approving that wind farm it worried about people getting too close to the 400-foot high machines.

Dangers include a mechanical failure that could spray mechanical pieces or the huge blades throwing chunks of ice during the winter. Both are rare and if icing is likely the turbines could be shut down.

However, as a condition of the permit the Site Evaluation Committee said the wind farm’s owner, Brookfield Renewable, must discourage people from getting closer than 1,300 feet, the distance recommended by the turbine manufacturer at the time.

The 1,300-foot limit came up as an issue in April, when the Coos Planning Board first saw the ski plan.

But Burt Mills, who works for Otten, said there had been discussions with Brookfield Renewable, there wasn’t a problem and there’s nothing binding about the 1300 foot limit.

“It was never turned into a rule. It was just a request,” he told the board.

And he also noted an ATV trail that’s already within 900 feet of turbines.

Finally, Mills said resort workers would make sure everyone was safe. When the SEC set the 1,300-foot limit the wind turbines were going to be unattended.

But SEC lawyer Michael Iacopino told NHPR if Brookfield Renewable wants to allow skiers within 1,300 feet “it needs to ask the SEC to change that condition.”

That could delay the expansion of the ski area, scheduled to start this summer.

At that April meeting board chairman John Scarinza said the issue needs to be considered at subsequent meetings.

“I think this is something that would be good to nail down and understand before we are done," he said.

The board meets Tuesday night at 6 pm in Colebrook the ski plan is at the end of a long agenda.

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