During a special town meeting Wednesday night, voters agreed 126-98 to spend an additional $50,000 over the next two years to fight a proposed wind farm in Sheffield and Sutton.
It was standing room only in the multi-purpose room at the Sutton Town School as more than 200 people showed up to vote. About 15 people spoke either for or against spending the money authorization.
“Sutton would be foolish not to have legal representation before the Public Service Board in these proceedings,” resident Sharon Nicol said.
Resident Norman Coons said the town has already spent $35,000 on a lawyer. All but $11,000 of that came from the taxpayers. The rest was raised by town residents.
“Now we’re pushing $100,000,” Coons said. “We’re beating a dead horse.”
Coons said the PSB has the final say in whether wind turbines will be built in Sutton. He pointed out that the residents of East Haven wanted a wind farm in their town, but the PSB denied East Haven Windfarm a permit.
“The state will decide if there will be wind turbines in Sutton,” Coons said.
Resident Tom Hazen said if people want to hire a lawyer, they should be the ones to pay for the lawyer.
Resident Don Gregory said he was concerned about the negative impact the turbines would have on property values. “I believe in property rights,” he said, “but when something is done that impacts so many towns, it’s not right.” He urged voters to vote yes to spending the money.
Tim Simpson, chairman of the Sutton Board of Selectmen, explained that the board hired Norwich attorney Daniel Hershenson in May to represent the town during hearings before the PSB after voters at town meeting in March 120-23 against the wind farm. The lawyer’s fees reached $35,000 by July, and in August, selectmen told Hershenson to stop acting on behalf of the town.
Because the town had spent $25,000 of unbudgeted taxpayers’ money, the board decided to ask the voters if the town should continue to pay an attorney.
Simpson said Hershenson agreed to lower his fees and to accept payment over two years with no interest.
In answer to questions from Celeste Girrell, Simpson said Hershenson has been sending itemized bills “down to the minute.” He also said that Selectman David McCue, and Bob Michaud, chairman of the planning board, are the only two people authorized to contact the lawyer, although others in town have sent Hershenson e-mail messages.
UPC Vermont Wind is seeking approval from the PSB to install two 420-foot-tall wind turbines on Norris Mountain in Sutton and another 14 similar turbines in Sheffield. The developer filed an amended petition with the board Oct. 13, reducing the number of turbines in Sutton from six to two. Turbines originally planned on Hardscrabble Mountain in Sheffield were eliminated.
Because of these changes, the PSB held a third public hearing in Sheffield Wednesday night at the same time as the Sutton meeting. Technical hearings in the case, originally set to begin in early December, have been rescheduled for late January and early February.
Because of this delay, opponents to the project asked the PSB to require UPC to pay the additional legal fees that will be incurred. The board denied this request earlier this month.
A site visit scheduled for earlier in the day Wednesday was canceled due to the weather. Rain and fog had obscured ridge lines.
By Jeanne Miles
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