WILMINGTON- Selectboard members discussed the extent of their participation in upcoming public service board hearings on the proposed wind generation expansion in Searsburg and Readsboro at their regular board meeting Wednesday evening.
Windham Regional Commission Executive Director Jim Matteau and town attorney Bob Fisher were on hand to offer the board their advice. Matteau said the board could ask to “intervene,” meaning they would play an active role in the hearing process. “But if you want to provide testimony, you have to be there throughout the hearing, and you have to be available for cross-examination,” he said.
The town would also have to file pretrial testimony on their position, Fisher told board members. As soon as opposing parties received the written testimony, he said, they would be asked to provide background and sources to support the town’s position. “You might get hit with 50 to 100 pages of questions,” he said. “and we have to answer all of them.”
Full participation in the process, Fisher warned, could mean as much as 30 days of his work, including up to 10 days at the hearing. “It’s hard to estimate cost,” he said, “but it will take a lot of time.”
But Fisher said the town may not have to do battle on every permit criterion for which they have a concern. The town could work with other like-minded parties, and focus their own efforts on issues not addressed by others. “One of the things you need to consider, as a balance against cost, is whether there are other parties that will take the same view,” he said.
Matteau said the advantage of seeking to “intervene” was that the town would not only be able to present their own testimony and expert witnesses, but could also cross-examine other parties. He said the Windham Regional Commission was an intervening party, and planned to represent itself. Even so, he said, the commission expected it would cost as much as $8,000 to participate in the process.
“I don’t have a good grip on what our position would be in terms of complaint,” said board member Tom Consolino.
Selectboard chair Rob Wheeler asked board members what permit criteria they would suggest focusing on, if the town agrees to take a position and intervene in the process.
“My personal objection is aesthetics,” said board member Meg Streeter. “I’ve heard from a lot of citizens that they foresee a loss of property values that will occur as a result of this. Unlike the existing windmills, these are considerably larger and will have FAA mandated lighting. They’ll be much more visible and obvious from numerous points in Wilmington.”
Fisher noted that pretrial testimony already filed by the applicant indicated that the turbines would have a negligible effect on property values. “I’m assuming there are other studies that go the other way, but you’d need expert testimony to back that position, and that’s going to add to the cost.”
Streeter said the proposed wind turbines offered no benefit to Wilmington, and the location of some of the towers on National Forest land was within “a few feet of wilderness that couldn’t even be logged a few years ago.”
“We will be setting a precedent for the entire country if this goes onto National Forest land,” agreed Lynne Matthews, an opponent of the project. “One of the greatest negatives I see will be on overcast nights; you are going to see a constant blinking night sky, and it’s going to be the color red.”
The board voted to pursue their motion to intervene in the permit process, but decided to leave the decision on whether to support or oppose the project, and whether to fund a legal battle, up to voters. Streeter offered a motion to solicit the opinion of voters at a town meeting as soon as possible. She suggested the board move for a paper ballot at the meeting. “I think it’s a good idea to oppose this (project),” she said.
Wilmington resident Cliff Duncan asked if the vote could be limited to “property owners,” with the aim of allowing second-home owners to participate in the decision. But Fisher said only legal voters could vote at a warned Town Meeting. “You could have another meeting for the input of second-home owners.”
Wheeler said second-home owners could be allowed to offer input at a Town Meeting, but couldn’t participate in the vote.
By Mike Eldred
8 November 2007
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