Thursday November 15, 2012

DOMENIC POLI

Brattleboro Reformer

GRAFTON -- A group of citizens looking to amend language in the town plan regarding test towers and wind turbines addressed the town's planning commission Monday with the intent of drafting a petition toward that end.

Liisa Kissel, representing Friends of Grafton's Heritage, attended the planning commission's meeting with a few other members and a public relations specialist. Kissel told the commissioners 5 percent of the municipality's voters have agreed to sign the petition once the wording is carefully crafted. State statute required 5 percent sign a petition before a planning commission amends a town plan.

Iberdrola Renewables, operating as Atlantic Wind LLC, formally asked for the state's permission to erect three test towers -- two in Windham and one in Grafton on land owned by New Hampshire-based Meadowsend Timberlands Limited. The towers could be a precursor to Windham County's first commercial wind turbines.

The majority of Windham residents are adamantly against the proposal but Grafton has been neutral on the issue for some time. The people of Grafton were able to tour the company's 12-turbine, 24-megawatt site in Lempster, N.H., on Wednesday, Oct. 3, and Thursday, Oct. 4, to see for themselves how they work.

Kissel told the Reformer the Friends of Grafton's Heritage are opposed to the idea for several reasons.

"We are basically very concerned about what this would do to this town. We're worried about the future of this town," she said before Monday's meeting. "This would change the nature of it and probably take away its best asset, which is the unspoiled nature of the environment. That's the reason a lot of people come here, whether to live or visit. And we feel it is just totally inappropriate.

"It also, economically, does not make any sense," she continued. She added that local ratepayers will actually see costs increase instead of decrease. She said the development would take away more in terms of money and environmental destruction than what it offers. She said the town plan should provide clear language prohibiting large-scale industrial installations. She even hired Lynn Barrett, president of Primetime Concepts Inc., to help get the group's opinion heard.

Grafton Selectboard Al Sands previously told the Reformer the town plan says the town prohibits the rejection of any construction based solely on aesthetics. A few commissioners asked if the group's plan was premature, as Iberdrola has no permits as of yet and the entire town plan needs to be revised in 2013.

"I don't think this is premature because we don't know what's going to happen with that application," Kissel responded. "Regardless of what happens to that application, there could be another similar one. This is what the town needs to protect itself against for the future. It's not just this one specific project that we're concerned about."

She mentioned the Friends of Grafton's Heritage is planning a public informational meeting at the Grafton Congregational Church and Chapel Monday, Nov. 26. She said plans to have pizza and other refreshments available.

Commissioner Nancy Middleton asked how many other different viewpoints will be heard at the meeting. Kissel said her group has not invited parties of different opinions but said it is a public meeting and everyone is welcome. She said she feels her group is the only one whose voice has not yet been heard of this matter.

When Commissioner Robbie Sprague asked how locals will be notified of the informational meeting, Kissel said an announcement was made in this month's edition of the Grafton News and fliers will be posted around town. She also said reminders will be mailed to town residents.

Kissel said Ben Luce, a professor of physics and renewable energy at Lyndon State College, will speak at the meeting. Kissel told the Reformer Luce has studied intensively about whether large-scale wind power is appropriate in Vermont.

"He will present his findings and conclusions at that meeting," Kissel said, adding that she hopes representatives from other towns will be present. 

Planning Commission Chairman Eric Stevens said on Tuesday that he feels Kissel and the Friends of Grafton's Heritage are bypassing the planning commission because she doesn't think she will any receive sympathy.

"This is a way of forcing the issue," he said in a telephone interview. "I don't think it's a very friendly way to approach it but it's what she chose to do and it's her right."

Middleton said the Selectboard could choose to put it to a town vote.

Sands told the Reformer about a month ago that a tour involving only town officials was held in Lempster on Tuesday, Aug. 28. The point, he said, was to gain as much knowledge as possible about what it's like to live near wind turbines.

"They were very forthright. They didn't act like they had anything to hide. They were very open and very honest," Sands said. "They seemed to think the whole process went fairly well and they said Iberdrola is a good neighbor."