PLANS to transport huge blades and towers around most of Caithness for a wind farm development at Stroupster could cause traffic chaos and be "quite dangerous", it has been claimed.
The equipment is coming into Wick harbour but cannot go directly to the wind farm site near Auckengill because of logistical difficulties. Instead it is planned to take the structures down the A99 to Latheron and up the Causewaymire on the A9 to Thurso.
They will then to go through Castletown and on to John O’Groats before reaching Stroupster, according to Brenda Herrick, who chairs Castletown and District Community Council.
She is concerned about the impact such huge loads would have on the village and the other areas they travel through.
Mrs Herrick claimed the blades, measuring 30 to 40 metres, and the towers, could not go through Wick to Stroupster because of their size and width, and would have to be taken on a circuitous route around the county to get to the site. The harbours at Gills and John O’Groats could not accommodate the loads, she said.
Mrs Herrick, who is a member of the Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, said the loads would create "chaos" at the traffic lights in Thurso near the Tesco supermarket as they headed out towards Castletown.
She said the lights might have to come down to get the vehicles through.
"The road going through Castletown is busy most times of the day. It could cause a problem and be quite dangerous," said Mrs Herrick. She claims it would be better if the loads went through Castletown in the evening. "It would be a nightmare if they were transported during the day," she added.
The Stroupster wind farm is being developed by German company BayWa. Responding to the concern, a UK-based spokeswoman said: "We acquired the project at the end of 2012 from RWE npower renewables.
"Before then, RWE npower had already agreed in principle with Transport Scotland and Highland Council on the longer delivery route for abnormal loads," she said.
The route is understood to have been chosen to avoid the sharp turn along Wick High Street.
The spokeswoman said a construction traffic management plan which incorporated the route had been agreed by the company as part of its planning consent.
However, she stressed alternatives were being considered, although they would be subject to discussion and agreement with the relevant authorities.
"The timing of the delivery phase will be firmed up in the new year but it is not expected to start before April 2014, so we have a few months until the route will be required," she said.
The construction traffic management plan considered the logistics of turbine deliveries, road safety, public access and junction and road upgrades.
It aimed to minimise disturbance to the local road network, she added.
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: "We have yet to receive a haulier application on behalf of the company’s client for this particular movement of wind farm components.
"When an application is received, consultation will commence and Highland Council and other key stakeholders, including Police Scotland, will be given the opportunity to comment on the haulier’s preferred route.
"Highland Council will be responsible for raising safety concerns on local roads at this point before any approval is agreed."
A Police Scotland spokesman said: "As with all abnormal loads which require a police escort, we look to minimise traffic disruption as much as possible.
"While each route can present its own challenges to our officers, the safety of road users is our main consideration when moving these loads and the patience of the travelling public is always appreciated."
The Caithness Courier contacted Highland Council for a comment but no-one was available by the time we went to press yesterday afternoon.
BayWa acquired the Stroupster wind farm through its subsidiary Renerco Renewable Energy Concepts, which took up an option to buy up to 10 onshore wind farms across England, Scotland and Wales from RWE npower renewables.
Stroupster is understood to be the fourth wind farm purchased through the agreement.
Approval was granted for 12 turbines but BayWa wants to add another one. Construction is expected to get under way next year.