MANCHESTER — The town voted to oppose a proposed wind farm on Little Equinox and authorized the Select Board to spend up to $150,000 to do so during Town Meeting on Saturday.
While the vote is non-binding, Rep. Judith M. Livingston told Town Meeting attendees that a similar vote last week rejecting a wind proposal in Londonderry was "heard loud and clear in Montpelier."
The Public Service Board, which has the sole authority to issue permits that the project needs, may decide to authorize the wind turbines anyway. Under the article passed, the Select Board was not even authorized to negotiate conditions with the developer.
"Until we have to negotiate, why don’t we say no?" Livingston said.
Endless Energy, of Yarmouth, Maine, plans to build five 130-foot wind turbines on the Little Equinox ridgeline to generate electricity that will be sold to Burlington. The future of the project is still unknown.
No application filed yet
Harley Lee, Endless Energy’s president, has not filed an application with the Public Service Board for an Act 248 hearing. But during an interview on Friday, he didn’t rule out the possibility that he might no matter the outcome at Town Meeting.
The debate over the wind proposal helped stretch the meeting to more than four and a half hours, but the discussion remained civil with only the occasional outbreak of applause, showing how strongly the audience felt.
Much of the discussion revolved around various motions to modify the article that appeared on the ballot. Article 20 asked only if voters wanted the town to take a position and authorize an amount to be spent on technical experts to support the position.
Joseph Miles proposed an amendment under which Manchester would support the wind project and the Select Board would have decided on appropriate conditions to be imposed, with a budget of up to $50,000.
That was soon replaced by an amendment from Louise Riviaccio asking the town to oppose the project and to eliminate the request that the Select Board negotiate conditions. This formed the backbone of the eventual "no" vote on the turbines.
Riviaccio read a letter which she said represented the homeowners of the Equinox on the Battenkill development. The letter began by saying the residents were concerned about their home investment and property values. It ended by saying the homeowners supported renewable energy resources "but not in our backyard."
Riviaccio’s letter condemned the developer for proposing to build wind turbines in a place that already had roads and infrastructure and suggested instead the wind project be located in another place in Vermont where there was no development.
Another amendment was proposed by former Manchester Town Manager Jeff Wilson, suggesting the town take no position. His motion said the "Select Board would have the latitude to take a position in respect to the project after considered study and deliberation."
Select Board Chairman Ivan Beattie and member Michael Kilburn said they believed that would leave the town in a better position to negotiate.
Wilson’s amendment was defeated 62-60.
To further fight the project, Leslie Keefe proposed an amendment to raise the amount the town would spend to $150,000, after Kilburn said experts would most likely need to be hired on the subjects of noise, aesthetics and economic impact.
The voice vote which decided that the town would oppose the project was not overwhelming, but by that point in the meeting the crowd had thinned from about 200 to about 120. Moderator Michael Nawrath acknowledged that with the many amendments discussed and voted on, some voters may have left early thinking they had already voted to oppose the project.
After the meeting, Beattie said he believed the Select Board had enough information to proceed.
"The Select Board will identify the key issues that are of concern to people in the town. I believe we had a mandate to do that whether the vote was to support or oppose the project," he said.
Manchester Planning Commission Chairman Brian Keefe, who was also chairman of several public meetings hosted to provide information about the wind project, said he thought they were successful.
"I thought a lot of people here participated in the forums and they were better prepared today. They knew the merits of the project and they were prepared to vote," he said.
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