BARTON ““ Officials here plan to canvass voters about the impact of a potential wind generation project nearby that has stirred up controversy since developers said they would re-route major construction traffic through the village.
Barton is a small picturesque hill town located just north of the proposed 16-turbine Sheffield Wind Farm. It is several miles north of St. Johnsbury on Interstate 91 just below the Canadian border and is home to Crystal Lake State Park, a popular Northeast Kingdom tourist destination.
Barton selectmen have warned a special town meeting for Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Barton Municipal Building to see if local voters want the town to weigh in before the Vermont Public Service Board as it reviews the project, and if voters want selectmen to endorse the project before the PSB.
Barton borders both of the towns that would host the turbines, Sheffield and Sutton, and at least 14 of the 16 398-foot tall wind turbines would be in direct view of Crystal Lake’s public beach from about five miles away, according to application information.
The issue started boiling in town when Newton, Mass.-based UPC Wind representatives told Barton officials last fall they would need to transport 16 turbines in 10 individual shipments, creating a minimum of 160 oversized truckloads, at the rate of three or four trucks per day over the course of a few months. The town highway through the village and the rural gravel access road would need to be widened, bolstered and otherwise improved to accommodate the loads, and some power poles might need to be relocated, according to an engineer hired by UPC.
Traffic estimates do not include construction supplies for improving the narrow winding Duck Pond Road to access the remote ridgelines or for logging and concrete pouring to ready the mountaintops for erecting the turbines. Discussion of the plan caused concern among some residents, who said they feared it would tie up traffic and thwart tourism. Others in a public hearing last November said they worried noise from upgrading the road would disturb the peace. But selectmen said they do not want to be hasty in condemning or endorsing the project without gathering input from the entire town in a special town meeting.
“We decided we didn’t know what the majority (opinion) was and we didn’t know what the feeling was,” said selectman chairman Rupert Chamberlin on Tuesday. “It (a special town meeting) was our way to get a feeling for what everybody felt about it.”
Although the town has been kept informed of the project since UPC Wind Management first filed an application with the Vermont Public Service Board in Feb. 2006, Barton officials only joined the conversation when the wind development company scaled back the project from 26 to 16 turbines last fall, a move that increased the impact on Barton by re-routing construction traffic through Barton Village rather than through the back roads of Sheffield and Sutton as originally planned.
Many of the roughly 100 people who attended the first public hearing held in Barton by UPC Wind Management personnel in November said they had been neutral on the topic until it was announced much of the traffic would be brought to town via the village’s roadways.
Chamberlin said the special meeting is going to be held in traditional Vermont style with a moderator. He said he expects a paper ballot would be called for and he hopes representatives from UPC Vermont Wind will be on hand to answer questions.
“The whole town will vote,” Chamberlin said. “Our concern is that the road be properly built and maintained.” Chamberlin said many people living on Duck Pond Road do not want to see the road “improved” at all, though. Chamberlin said town roads authorize up to 25,000 pounds and require trucks carrying more than that to get a permit. Selectmen authorize hundreds of oversized trucks per year on town roads, mostly for logging. The trucks UPC hopes to get through town will carry loads up to 90,000 pounds and possibly more, Chamberlin said.
The town could be in line to get some of the wind-generated power if the project gets up and running. The municipally owned Barton Electric is a member of VPPSA (Vermont Public Power Supply Authority) and, like Lyndonville Electric Department, stands to purchase power from the project, Chamberlin said. Washington Electric Cooperative in East Montpelier is also planning to purchase some of the power for its 10,000 members.
UPC spokesman Erik Filkorn said his company has been working with Barton officials to bring the project to fruition as amicably as possible.
“We’re in ongoing discussions with Barton and addressing concerns with their transportation and trying to do the right thing to make sure there is as little heartache as possible,” Filkorn said. “We’ve discussed tourism and all manner of economic impacts.”
Filkorn said there is testimony from other wind utility host towns showing many benefits such a project would bring.
By Carla Occaso Times Argus staff
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