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Sutton ponies up to fight wind towers

Townspeople in Sutton have decided to put their money where their mouth is to support their opposition to a proposed wind farm.

At a standing-room-only special town meeting Wednesday evening, voters agreed to authorize up to $50,000 more in public money to subsidize the town’s legal fight against a proposal by UPC Vermont Wind. The vote was 126-98. The town has spent about $36,000 in legal fees – $25,000 in public funds and $11,000, raised privately.

UPC’s proposal, which requires a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board, is going through a protracted series of public and evidentiary hearings. The proposal calls for 16 wind towers, 420 feet tall, in the towns of Sheffield and Sutton. The towers would generate 40 megawatts of electricity.

Two of the towers would be in Sutton, on Norris Mountain. The proposal is a revision of the original plan, which called for 26 towers, 399 feet tall, generating 52 megawatts; six of those towers would have been in Sutton.

In an advisory vote at town meeting in March, Sutton voters rejected the original wind-farm proposal by a ratio of about 6 to 1.

The neighboring town of Sheffield voted 120-93 in favor of the proposal in December, in a non-binding vote. Sheffield has negotiated a “mitigation payment” from UPC if the proposal is approved; some townspeople remain staunchly opposed.

The Public Service Board has held three public hearings on the UPC proposal; the third was Wednesday in Sheffield. The schedule of legal proceedings extends through March. The lawyer representing Sutton is C. Daniel Hershenson of Norwich.

Sutton’s special town meeting lasted about 90 minutes, Town Clerk Dorreen Devenger said.

Town resident Norm Coons opposed the measure. “They’ve already spent $36,000,” he said by telephone Thursday, “and what have we got for it? Nothing.” He said the final bill could approach $100,000, and declared that the decision on whether the towers will go up rests with the Public Service Board and is “out of our control.”

Resident Carol Brouha supported continuing the legal fight. She was among those who raised $11,300 to help pay legal fees: $4,300 from Sutton donations, $3,500 from a spaghetti supper, and a matching grant of $3,500 from an anonymous donor. More fund-raisers are planned, she said.

“Radically changing and destroying defining ridgelines is of public concern, and the public was willing to take responsibility,” Brouha said in an e-mail.

She pointed out that the wind towers would be contrary to the town plan, and that a citizens survey in 2002 established that “Sutton’s environment with its natural beauty and scenic areas is considered by residents among its most important resources to protect.”

By Tim Johnson
Free Press Staff Writer
Contact Tim Johnson at 660-1808 or tjohnson@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com.