Residents of Sutton were presented with a difficult decision last week when they were asked to raise taxes to continue the fight against an industrial wind development on their ridgelines.
Given the dramatic changes this small community could face, voters made the right decision Wednesday.
The 16 wind towers proposed by UPC Vermont Wind are enormous – 420 feet tall. Standing prominently on mountains in Sutton and Sheffield, the turbines would not only affect people living in these towns but they undoubtedly would be seen for miles around from numerous communities and vantage points in Vermont’s relatively wild and undeveloped Northeast Kingdom.
Vermonters who care about protecting the state’s ridgelines from industrial development need to pay attention to UPC’s plans. Even better, they need to reach out to the residents who are carrying the load on behalf of the rest of us – citizens’ groups like the Ridge Protectors and little towns like Sutton, Lyndonville, Kirby and Barton. They face an expensive legal fight ahead.
UPC, a company based in Newton, Mass., has applied to the Vermont Public Service Board for permission to build the 16 turbines. The company altered its plans after running into resistance from residents and a key Sutton employer, the King George School, which provides jobs for about 50 people. School administrators have said the school would have to shut down if it suddenly found itself surrounded by wind turbines. UPC reduced the number of proposed towers from the original 26, but increased the height of each tower by 21 feet. The resistance, rightly, remains strong.
At Sutton’s special meeting Wednesday, residents voted 126-98 to spend up to $50,000 more over the next two years to mount their case against UPC. The Public Service Board hearings haven’t started yet, and the town has already spent about $36,000 in legal fees, with $25,000 coming from the town’s coffers and the rest raised privately.
The wind power fight has been a divisive experience for residents accustomed to a more quiet rural existence. Sheffield voters narrowly supported the project, and Sutton voters opposed it at last March’s town meeting. Protest signs have popped up on lawns and there have been some testy meetings. As Wednesday’s vote showed, not all of Sutton speaks with one voice, of course. There are opponents and supporters of the project throughout the surrounding towns.
Division grows when the fight hits individual pocketbooks. Launching a challenge against a large wind company before the Public Service Board is an expensive proposition. Spaghetti dinner fund-raisers and a small tax base only go so far. Towns and citizens’ groups need lawyers and expert witnesses to match the lawyers and expert witnesses hired by wind developers. Unfortunately, this is the way Vermont’s Section 248 process works for utility projects.
Legislators should take a second look at this process when they return to the Statehouse in January. It should not be so punishing.
In the meantime, there are a number of Vermonters in the Northeast Kingdom who are doing their part to protect the state’s ridgelines. They deserve our gratitude and support.
Lend support Find out how you can help residents in the Northeast Kingdom in their fight against an industrial wind development on their ridgelines. Call Greg Bryant of Ridge Protectors at 626-9643.
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