A crowd of Northeast Kingdom residents had a lot of questions and concerns for UPC Wind representatives during an emotionally charged public hearing here Monday night.
Fielding questions were Gregory Johnson of Burlington and Leila LaRosa, both hired by UPC, the Newton, Mass.-based company seeking permission from the Vermont Public Service Board to put in a 16-turbine wind project in Sheffield and Sutton. If approved by the board, the project would generate 40 megawatts of renewable power at maximum capacity.
Barton joined Sheffield and Sutton in debate on the project shortly after UPC announced it hoped to gain oversized truck transportation access to the project site via Barton Village, by taking Interstate 91, and then traveling north on Route 16 to Duck Pond Road. Trucks must pass through Barton Village to get to Duck Pond Road, a narrow, curvy gravel road with few houses on it.
Barton officials said last week they asked UPC to hold a hearing so the public could ask questions about the re-routed transportation for bringing in turbine components. UPC previously planned to bring equipment to the site through Sheffield and Sutton.
Many attending the meeting said they do not want to see or listen to the project, which would be in direct if distant view on the mountain backdrop seen from Crystal Lake from the public beach. Several said the town depends on summer tourism and expressed concern over how the view behind Crystal Lake might be ruined by the sight of at least 14 of the 16 420-foot wind turbines.
Others said they were concerned the 160 or so truckloads UPC spokesmen said would be needed to bring in wind turbine parts, cement and other supplies, might damage the town’s roads and infrastructure.
“I do not want 150-foot long trucks going up our road at three per day,” said Richard Clay, a resident of Duck Pond Road in Barton. “I do not want to have to wait hour after hour for a truck 14-feet wide to get back to the village. This is peace and quiet I moved here for and damn it, that is what I want.”
Clay said he moved to the Northeast Kingdom from Windsor County in southern Vermont because it is the way Vermont was 20 years ago and that is how he wants it to stay.
Nobody at the meeting except wind development company employees spoke in favor of the renewable energy project, which would produce up to 40 megawatts of power for Washington Electric Co-op in East Montpelier and other Vermont utilities. Vermont utilities are facing the loss of a large chunk of their stable low-cost power sources in several years and consider wind as an environmentally sound solution.
But most of the roughly 90 people attending the first public hearing held in Barton said they did not see what they would get out of it except a spoiled view and noise from construction.
Johnson and Larosa said they only prepared to address transportation issues and could not answer a broad range of questions ranging from “what’s your budget?” to “who owns the company?” This appeared to anger some people.
“You guys are very unprepared,” said Michelle Conley, 16, of Barton. “You have a lot of fuzzy figures and you are bringing this hell upon us. We need these figures. I don’t think you’ve convinced many people of your good plan because of that lack of planning.”
Town officials said they learned by word of mouth the wind project would transport oversized wind turbine components through the village, and began to hear concerns from residents.
Selectman Chairman Rupert Chamberlain said town officials remain neutral on the project and only want to see how truck traffic would affect roads and power lines. UPC said in a document tower blades, sections and gearboxes would be moved through Barton Village, if the Public Service Board approves the project.
“Towns across the U.S. have hosted wind projects and benefited from temporary and long term positive economic impacts,” material prepared by UPC states. “We expect immediate economic benefits to local retailers and other businesses.”
But those at the meeting sounded skeptical, saying the only person who would benefit was the guy who sells gasoline to the truck drivers.
By Carla Occaso, Times Argus Staff