Well above the number of required voters have signed a petition in Barton asking that the town plan be changed to ban commercial and industrial wind power.
Members of the Ladies Improvement Society and others launched a petition to change the town plan, which is up for review, so that commercial wind turbines would be prohibited in Barton. About 200 people signed the petition out of 1,600 registered voters, JoAnn Stefanski said.
About 100 signatures were needed to bring the petition to the planning commission. Two times that number signed even though Stefanski said it was a fairly low key drive that many people didn’t know about for a while.
The petition drive is a response to UPC Wind’s project planned for Sheffield, which has been approved by the Vermont Public Service Board with conditions.
The PSB issued a certificate of public good for the wind farm in August, concluding that the economic benefits of the 40-megawatt project, which would lead to construction of 16 420-foot-tall wind towers, outweigh the adverse impact.
Ridge Protectors, a group opposed to the wind farm, has filed a notice of intent to challenge the PSB decision to the Vermont Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, some in Barton, whose roads will be used to haul in the equipment and materials, and who object to huge ridge line wind towers in general – some of which will be in their view following the Sheffield wind farm’s completion – are saying they want to avoid any such project with all its complications in their town.
“This is basically so we don’t have to go through all this all over again, if UPC or another huge corporation decides there’s another ridge line they want to put towers on,” said Liz Butterfield, a Barton businesswoman and another person behind the Barton petition drive.
Next Monday, Nov. 19, the drivers behind the petition will go to the Barton selectmen to discuss their concerns, as will the planning commission.
“Our first reason for being there is to see what Jay is saying about the petition,” Stefanski said. The second reason is to make sure that the process is correctly followed, she said. Jay is Jay Dudley, who is chairman of the Barton Planning Commission, and could not be reached for comment.
“I can’t see the PSB or the selectmen really getting too involved in this,” Stefanski said.
“It’s an up or down vote. You either want them or you don’t want them,” she said referring to the wind turbines. “It’s just a matter of getting people out, the democratic process.”
The wind project has sharply divided communities. Some are interested in renewable energy and view the project as a step in the right direction. Some are interested in protecting the pristine nature of the Northeast Kingdom. Others say that the Northeast Kingdom should not always be the place for alternative but possibly intrusive projects simply because its population is small and its rural.
Members of the Ridge Protectors disagree with the PSB and question the entire viability of the project, saying it will not generate enough power to offset its adverse effects.
Robert Croteau, chairman of the Barton selectmen, said he did not know that the wind power issue will be coming up at Monday’s selectman’s meeting. One problem, he said, is that there is a very vocal group of people who are passionate about banning the wind towers, and there is no one as vocal expressing another opinion although he knows it’s there.
“These people are absolutely passionate about it,” he said. “We’re going to be neutral on it. Some spoke good of it, and some spoke poorly of it. The people who’ve came in are people we knew well, really good people.”
The process in Barton now is that there will be a planning board hearing on Nov. 29. It will be followed by a special hearing on the proposed change, prompted by the petition.
Stefanski said she’s expecting several hearings coming up soon and hopes that, in particular, people will attend the public hearings. It’s all important, she said, but the public hearings on the town plan and the later one on the petition particularly matter.
Barton’s town plan talks about the need for renewable energy Stefanski said, but nowhere does it talk specifically about wind. It already had hydro, she noted.
Croteau said he welcomes the debate, but can’t help those who think that Barton roads should be denied to UPC to bring their equipment into the area.
“We can’t do that,” he said. “They’re 24,000-pound roads. We can’t ban UPC from our roads.”
He said that Ridge Protectors asked if the town of Barton would like to join in appealing the PSB’s decision.
“We have no issue to appeal,” he said.
By Tena Starr
16 November 2007
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