Town residents on Friday voted against a proposal to expand the wind turbine project on Green Mountain National Forest land in Searsburg and Readsboro.
The vote was nonbinding but will be reviewed by the state Public Service Board before a final decision is made on the project. The proposal calls for 15 to 24 turbines, each 410-foot tall, on about 80 acres of Green Mountain Forest land in Searsburg and Readsboro. Approximately half the turbines would be on the same ridgeline as the existing 11 turbines owned by PPM energy in Searsburg on the east side of Route 8. The existing Searsburg wind facility, built in 1997, occupies private land adjacent to the National Forest, and has a capacity to generate 6 megawatts of electricity, according to the petition for a Certificate of Public Good submitted in January to the state Public Service Board.
In contrast to Searsburg’s vote Friday, last year in neighboring Readsboro about half the registered voters came out overwhelmingly in favor of the proposed expansion by a margin of 191-31.
The proposed turbines are expected to generate up to 45 megawatts of electricity.
An access road would be built from Putnam Road to mountains on the western side of Route 8, and another access road would be built along Sleepy Hollow Road that would reach the new turbines connected to the current row of wind turbines.
Deerfield Wind, LLC, which is owned by PPM Energy Inc., proposed the expansion. It is currently under review by the Green Mountain National Forest and the Vermont Public Service Board.
About 40 people gathered in the Searsburg town office Friday to discuss the pros and cons to the project. After hearing both sides of the argument, a straw vote of 19-7 indicated that the town does not support the expansion. Two people were undecided. In the 2000 census, there were 64 registered voters in Searsburg.
Residents heard from Neil Habig, a PPM Energy representative, the Windham Regional Commission Executive Director James Matteau, and concerned citizen Gerry DeGray. According to Habig, the expansion could power 12,000 to 14,000 homes. He fielded questions regarding taxes, noise and traffic.
“We don’t know what the taxes will be,” said Habig. “It is early in the process.”
Habig said the entire cost could not be estimated because of the demand for turbines and turbine parts.
Habig also said they would temporarily widen the current access road by 38 feet. A traffic analysis will be presented as the project moves forward. There will be a flashing red light on each turbine, he said.
Thomas Shea, who lives near the current wind turbines, asked about the noise.
“Those are not whisper quiet,” said Shea.
Habig responded that modern turbines have been redesigned to remain quieter.
Matteau then emphasized the need for citizens to be involved in the project through contract stipulations.
“Nothing backs up good trust than to get it on paper,” said Matteau.
He stated that the Windham Regional Commission will not support or oppose the proposal until all questions and opinions are considered.
“It would be crazy to support the project just because we like the type of fuel,” said Matteau.
He was questioned about the watershed on the top of the mountain. Matteau said the proposal is on watershed land and therefore the building of the turbines must fit federal regulations.
“This process is tightly controlled,” said Matteau.
He then handed out business cards to citizens so they could keep up with the process.
The night finished with DeGray, a resident of Route 8 in Searsburg . According to DeGray, the turbines slated for the eastern ridge would not affect any houses but the turbines on the western ridge would affect 57 homes. He then showed a video, directed by Sutton resident Carol Brouha, about a wind project in Mars Hill, Maine. A 26 turbine wind project is currently proposed for Sutton and Sheffield.
Brouha complained that saying that citizens with concerns about the project ended up footing the bill for lawyer fees in attempts to fight wind power companies with more resources over issues related the turbine’s impact on quality of life. She said she has been fighting against wind projects.
“Now is the time to stop it,” said Brouha. “If you don’t have a top notch lawyer, they will run you down.”
Brouha’s video showed interviews with citizens in Brewster County, Maine, who discussed blasting that occurs on the mountain, the decrease in wildlife and the rising cost for town lawyers, as a result of the wind turbines.
After the film, Habig said he was not informed that videos could be shown. “We have a video that is pretty much the antithesis,” said Habig. “It talks to farmers who said that the windmills were better than proposed.”
The two-hour meeting ended with the town voting to not support the project.
“The showplace town does not want another one,” said Brouha. “That says something.”
By Andy McKeever
14 May 2007
[NWW editor’s note: the original version of this article misspelled Carol Brouha’s and Tom Shea’s names. These errors have been corrected in the above text.]
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