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Ladies Improvement takes its wind power petition to the selectmen  

The Barton Ladies Improvement Society would like to see a prohibition of wind farms in the town plan. They circulated a petition to that effect, and attempted to present it to the town planning commission on November 8. On Monday night they approached the town selectmen to reaffirm their opposition to industrial wind.

The petition seeks to add language to the town plan that would prohibit commercial industrial wind development within the town of Barton, said Jay Dudley, chairman of Barton’s planning commission.

“We did not reject the petition,” Mr. Dudley said. “We tabled it until we could get a legal opinion from the League of Cities and Towns.”

“We, as a group, are very much in favor of this petition,” resident Liz Butterfield said. “We don’t think sacrificing this mountain and this landscape is the right way to develop renewable energy.”

Barton’s town plan is currently under review as its five-year operational window draws to a close. The petition presented by the Barton Ladies Improvement Society would insert a section stating that commercial wind development is not in keeping with the general benefit and well-being of the town of Barton.

The Vermont League of Cities and Towns told the planning commission to review the two items separately, each on its own merits. In that case, both issues would require a set of public hearings called by the commission and, eventually, the selectmen.

Robert Croteau, chairman of the selectmen, asked if the amendment should be acted upon before the rest of the town plan.

“It’s automatically incorporated if it’s approved,” Mr. Dudley said. “We do want to keep the hearings close together, to keep momentum and the interest of the public.”

The aim of the planning commission is to give the voting public an opportunity to decide whether or not wind development is “conducive to the town plan,” Mr. Dudley said. The current town plan includes a section encouraging the use and development of renewable energy sources, he noted.

“Renewable energy doesn’t have to be wind energy,” said Jo Ann Stefanski, who spoke on behalf of the Ladies Improvement Society.

The appropriate forum to debate the merits of wind power would be the public hearings on the petition, Mr. Croteau said. Until the planning commission presents its findings to the selectmen, there is nothing for them to act on, he said.

“Hopefully with enough advertisement we can get people to come out and talk about this issue,” Mr. Croteau said.

The results of last January’s vote directing Barton’s selectmen to oppose issuing a certificate of public good to UPC Wind seemed to be a clear indication that the people of Barton were fundamentally opposed to commercial wind development, Linda Saparoff said.

“I still only see people who are opposed to this form of renewable energy,” Ms. Butterfield said.

Mr. Croteau countered that those who favor wind development are out there, and have voiced their concerns to him. Wind supporters seem to lack the unity and organizational skills of the groups opposed to them, he said.

“A lot of people don’t want an adversarial atmosphere that they feel they would get if they came to something like this,” Mr. Croteau said. “They don’t like it.”

A surprising voice of support came from the selectmen’s own clerk, Mary Scarpa. Ms. Scarpa said she has long supported wind power, both in concept and practice. More importantly, she added, this project deserves support because it is the only renewable energy project being proposed for this area.

“Until some group comes up with other alternative forms of energy I’m for wind towers,” Ms. Scarpa said. “Nobody’s presented anything else. These are the only people playing the game.”

Mr. Croteau said the proposed amendment would amount to regulating the use of private land.

“Isn’t that what zoning does?” countered Ms. Butterfield.

Ms. Saparoff suggested that the town could still pursue other forms of renewable energy, in particular the town’s abundant potential hydroelectric resources.

“I think a lot of people would love to see us use the water in town,” she said. “I think we could do something with water to lower everybody’s taxes.”

The main obstacle to utilizing hydropower lies in the permitting system, Ms. Butterfield said.

“The permitting process to get something going behind my store would cost $5,000,” she said. Her store, the Barton Village Corner Store, sits on the outlet from Crystal Lake, which once turned water turbines to power mills and factories.

Ms. Stefanski asked if the selectmen had considered whether or not they would grant overweight permits to UPC. A refusal would effectively bar their vehicles from using the town’s roads to bring wind towers to their sites. She referred to an earlier newspaper report in which Mr. Croteau said he didn’t think the town could refuse a permit because it didn’t like what the traffic would be used for.

Ms. Stefanski said conversations she has had with both the Secretary of State’s office and the Agency of Transportation suggested otherwise. The town has the right to grant or refuse permits, she said.

Mr. Croteau said that he was concerned that arbitrarily denying permits to vehicles associated with the wind towers could lead to a lawsuit against the town. If the vehicles used for the project are otherwise identical to other permitted vehicles, there doesn’t seem to be any solid grounds to deny UPC permits, he said.

“You folks are the ones worried about what we’re going to grant or not grant,” Mr. Croteau said. “We can’t say we will or will not deny permits, because we don’t even know what UPC is asking of us.”

“As you said, they haven’t asked for anything, and you’re already worried about having a lawsuit,” Ms. Stefanski replied.

The town has not received any formal communication from UPC since December 2006, Mr. Croteau said.

The town has acted in good faith to follow the directive issued by voters in January, Selectman Rupert Chamberlin said.

“We spent $7,500 in lawyer’s fees to send our attorney to these Public Service Board hearings,” he said.

At this point there is nothing else the selectmen could do or take action on, Mr. Croteau reiterated. Before closing the discussion he commended the Ladies Improvement Society for their vigilance in following the UPC Wind issue.

by Richard Creaser

The Chronicle

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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