The controversy over a proposed commercial wind farm, which has pitted neighbor against neighbor in this small town of about 730 people, continues.
The latest conflict centers around a lawyer hired to represent the town whose fees will be reimbursed by the wind developer.
Both sides of the debate agreed during meetings of the Sheffield Board of Selectmen that the town needed an attorney to represent its interests in dealing with a wind developer over how much the town would receive in taxes if the project goes through. UPC Vermont Wind announced its plans to erect 20 398-foot wind turbines between Hardscrabble Mountain, Granby Mountain and Libby Hill in early October.
Six more turbines are slated for neighboring Sutton near Norris Mountain.
The town turned to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns for advice. They were told a model ordinance does allow for selectmen to hire professional help and were given a list of lawyers the league recommended. The lawyer everyone agreed upon was Montpelier attorney Richard Saudek, former commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service.
"In most cases, the town bills the developer for professional help," Dominic Cloud, director of the Municipal Assistance Center, said this week.
Since the town has no money in its budget for legal advice, selectmen turned to UPC which offered to put up $4,000 to pay Saudek. Max Aldrich, chairman of the board of selectmen, said the town agreed to the deal "as long as there were no strings attached."
"I thought it was common practice," Aldrich said. He added that representatives from both sides of the issue have been present at meetings between Saudek and UPC.
"We’ve been as open about this as we possibly can," he said.
But Greg Bryant, who has been very vocal about his opposition to the wind project, said he is not happy with the deal.
"We do have a problem with it," Bryant said. "It puts the lawyer in a hard spot because the money is coming from UPC."
Bryant said he and other members of a group opposing the project have no problem with Saudek because he was their choice. But Bryant said Saudek is trying to get more money for the town from the wind developer while he and others do not want the wind farm at all at any price.
During a meeting of selectmen in October, Saudek made it clear he is working for the town.
"My complete loyalty is to the town," Saudek said at the time.
Tim Caffyn, project manager for UPC, said his company had no input as to who the town hired as an attorney.
"The town needed help," Caffyn said. "It’s a difficult, complex issue, so we agreed to give the town four grand." He added that Saudek has been a "tough" negotiator.
Non-Binding Vote Thursday
This latest debate comes just days before a town vote is scheduled to take place to see how residents feel about the wind farm. The non-binding vote will take place Thursday at the Sheffield Town Hall at 7 p.m. Townspeople had hoped to have some solid figures from UPC before casting their votes. While the results are not binding, Aldrich said he will listen to the people.
"I’ve said from the get-go I would go with the majority," Aldrich said. "I don’t want to go back on my word."
In the meantime, more pro- and anti-wind signs are going up on lawns throughout the town. Advertisements have been placed in The Caledonian-Record both touting and condemning the wind turbines.
UPC has hired Spike Advertising of Richmond, Vt., to handle the advertising campaign. Opponents’ ads state they are being paid for by a Sheffield person. A telephone campaign is also under way encouraging people to vote.
UPC plans to file for a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board in late December or early January. Company officials expect the permit process to take until 2007.
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