Voters overwhelmingly opposed the wind tower proposal slated for neighboring Sheffield and Sutton on Tuesday evening. The unanimous opposition provided the town selectmen with precisely the overwhelming sense of direction they lacked last fall.
“I think it was clear,” Selectman Robert Croteau said. “It’s not like we only had 25 or 30 people or even 60 or 70.”
An estimated 120 voters turned out to make their position, and that of their town, unmistakably clear.
That clarity, however, may have little effect on the Public Service Board (PSB), which must decide whether to issue a certificate of public good for the 16 towers UPC Vermont Wind wants to build.
What came as a surprise to many in attendance, and to the selectmen themselves, was how little time the town had to make its intentions known. At the conclusion of the voting, moderator and town attorney Bill May stepped down from his position to clarify the extent of the town’s involvement in the Public Service Board hearings.
Because of its late filing, the town was granted limited intervention restricted to the possible negative impact on its ability to deliver “municipal and governmental services,” as well as the possible effect the project’s transportation would have on the local economy, Mr. May said.
“At this time the town is out of time to file direct testimony,” Mr. May said.
Barton only approached the board after UPC changed its plans, and said it wanted to bring the 420-foot towers off Interstate 91 at exit 25, through Barton Village and up Duck Pond Road.
The deadline for filing testimony was December 11, 2006. The PSB is apparently willing to hear Barton, but only on the problems the huge towers might cause on their way through town.
Pressure to end the selectmen’s declared position of neutrality came so late in the game that it was impossible to host a public referendum and use the results of that vote to steer the town’s involvement in the proceedings. The town selectmen had purposely abstained from declaring a position either in favor of or in opposition to the project without a clear directive from the voters, Mr. Croteau said.
Interest in adopting a stance did not really emerge until after a tumultuous public hearing hosted by UPC this fall, said Mr. Croteau. Given the need to warn a special meeting 30 days in advance, it was already impossible to meet the PSB’s December 11 filing date.
“We really didn’t see the PSB schedule until recently and by then it was already too late,” Selectman Dan McMaster said.
Having missed the filing deadlines Barton will be further limited in the proceedings, Mr. May told the assembled crowd. Its involvement will be further limited to cross-examination of witnesses, he said.
“Regardless of how much involvement they will let us have, I think it will be hard for them to ignore the numbers,” Mr. Croteau said. “I didn’t hear a whisper of support for the towers from anyone.”
The town officially appointed Mr. May to represent the town at the PSB hearings, which are scheduled to start on January 29.
by Richard Creaser
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