A petition bearing 69 names was presented to the Sutton Board of Selectmen Thursday night calling for a special town meeting to vote on whether the town should continue to pay legal fees to fight a proposed wind farm.
“This is signed by the disgruntled voters who had no input in spending $25,000 on legal fees,” resident Glen Stine said. “I would rather have the wind turbines than pay this money.”
The board agreed during a meeting in May to spend $25,000 to hire Norwich attorney Daniel Hershenson to fight a wind farm proposed by UPC Vermont Wind. After three months that money was gone and now the town is facing bills totaling about $35,000.
About 15 members of the Ridge Protectors, a group opposed to the wind turbines, were at the meeting Thursday night and gave the board $4,300 the group had raised to fight the project.
Bob Michaud, chairman of the planning commission, said the money was for future legal fees.
“I was under the assumption it was to be used to defray existing legal fees,” Selectman Tim Simpson said. “We’re $10,000 over now.”
Simpson said Hershenson thought it would cost another $50,000 to see the case through.
Resident Carol Brouha said the lawyer had agreed to spread the cost over two years with no interest.
“We’re a small town,” Brouha said. “We don’t have much money, but no matter how many spaghetti suppers we have to hold, we’ll do whatever it takes to save our mountains.”
The Ridge Protectors asked the board to hold off acting on the petition until they could present the board with one of their own.
Selectman Dave McCue said the petition was legal and the board had to act on it. According to law, the board must set a date for the special meeting within 15 days of receiving it. Selectmen agreed to meet next week to set the date which cannot be in less than 30 days or more than 40 days from when the meeting is warned.
Sutton selectmen sent a letter in August to other intervening towns in the UPC case currently before the state Public Service Board asking for their financial help in fighting the wind turbines. So far, there have been no takers, Simpson said.
UPC Changes Plans
UPC Vermont Wind announced Monday that it had cut back on its plans for the wind farm. Instead of the original 20 398-foot turbines planned for Sheffield, 16 are now proposed.
In Sutton, two turbines are planned instead of the original six. The towers will be the same height, but the blades will be 20 feet longer. No turbines are planned for Hardscrabble Mountain.
UPC project manager Matt Kearns said this was in response to concerns expressed by the King George School. Head of School Karen Fitzhugh has testified that the school would have to close if the project was built. She said students at the private school have emotional problems that would only be worsened by the effects of the turbines.
The changes proposed by UPC will have some impact on the agreement the developer has with the town of Sheffield. Because the number of turbines has been reduced, the power capacity is reduced from 40 megawatts to 35 megawatts. The minimum yearly payment to the town goes from $400,000 to $350,000 and the maximum from $550,000 to $481,250.
“We feel it is a reasonable price,” Sheffield Selectman Max Aldrich said Wednesday. “We feel UPC has made an honest attempt with these changes to address the concerns of the people.”
But Greg Bryant, a Sheffield resident and spokesman for the Ridge Protectors, said it is not about the number of turbines, but their size.
“Even one or two towers is too much,” Bryant said. “The problem is the height. We will fight this to the end.”
Lawyers representing the King George School referred questions to Fitzhugh and the school’s corporate lawyer George Brunner. Fitzhugh was out of town and could not be reached for comment. A message left at Brunner’s office in King of Prussia, Pa., was not immediately returned.
By Jeanne Miles, Staff Writer
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