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Barton selectmen to hear proposal to ban wind farms  

After two recent public hearings held by the Barton Planning Commission, a proposal to ban all commercial and industrial wind towers in town will now go to selectmen for consideration, but it may not get the most enthusiastic reception.

Robert Croteau, chairman of selectmen, said he’s not sure that entirely prohibiting a source of renewable energy is a good idea. “In my opinion, just ruling outright all forms of wind projects without consideration is worse than poor planning,” he said. “It’s no planning.”

Sometime down the road, new and less intrusive technology could be available, and the town might want to be open to it, he noted. He said he’s neither opposed nor in favor of a specific project but would like to see all options for renewable energy remain on the table for informed and objective discussion.

The selectmen must hold a public hearing on the proposed amendment to the town plan, but have the option of changing the language before it goes to an Australian ballot vote.

The Barton Planning Commission has held hearings on both its revised town plan and a petition, signed by more than 200 of Barton’s 2,500 residents, asking that the plan specifically prohibit commercial and industrial wind. At the latest hearing, about 25 people showed up and watched a slide show produced by JoAnn Stefanski, who has been instrumental in launching the petition drive and fighting the possible introduction of commercial wind in Barton

Barton’s petition is in response to UPC Wind’s intention to put up 16 wind turbines in Sheffield, a plan the Vermont Public Service Board has approved, and one that a slim majority of Sheffield voters said they supported at a special town meeting two years ago.

A big and vocal minority continues to oppose the project and will file a Vermont Supreme Court appeal of the PSB decision next week. Meanwhile, they have asked for a halt to construction, saying that UPC Wind has failed to meet some of the 32 conditions that the PSB has imposed on the project.

The Barton Ladies Improvement Society decided to end-run the potential for commercial wind in their own town by trying to close the door entirely. Last fall they launched the petition drive aimed at protecting ridge lines in Barton.

Arguments against big wind farms have ranged from the possibility that they will ruin tourism by damaging the Northeast Kingdom’s rural, pristine nature, to the question of whether the power will be a reliable baseline source. Also, the power will go into the grid rather than directly to the people who host the huge turbines and bear its consequences. People have objected to the potential noise and questioned the amount of power the turbines will actually produce.

In Barton, the planning commission has questioned the validity of amending the town plan to ban a particular form of renewable energy.

“… The planning commission finds that the language and intent of the proposed amendment runs contrary to the plain meaning of the state’s statutory guidelines as those guidelines apply to the local planning process,” a letter from the planning commission to the selectmen says. “Although this does not preclude the voters of the town of Barton from adopting the amendment and including it in the town plan, lack of conformity with state statute may render the amendment ineffective and irrelevant since regulatory authorities, namely the PSB, are compelled to follow and refer to statutory guidelines in carrying out their function.”

It goes on to say that the amendment might not survive legal scrutiny, especially since the state, namely the PSB, rather than local zoning boards, has regulatory control over big utility projects.

State statues say that towns are supposed to be open to renewable energy, said Barton Planning Commission member Richard Cleveland. “We’re trying to stay neutral,” he said. “When it’s all said and done, it will go up for Australian ballot. We’re going to let the voters in Barton fight it out. Whichever way it goes is the way it goes.”

Stefanksi said a town plan that announces opposition to commercial wind is protection. At the least, the PSB would take note of that sentiment when ruling on a project, she said. “If you don’t have any kind of protection, the PSB won’t listen to you.

“I’m hoping that when people go vote on this stuff that they have the facts and know both sides of the story and haven’t made up their minds,” she said.

“If Sheffield isn’t the disaster we think it’s going to be, people can change the zoning and the town plan to accommodate development,” Stefanski said. “You can close the door in the beginning. If you leave the door open now and try to close it later, that’s almost impossible.”

Ironically, Stefanski said, she and her husband moved to northern Vermont from southern New Hampshire “to get away from issues.” Now she finds herself immersed in one of the more contentious issues to strike the Northeast Kingdom in years. One of these days, she said, she’ll happily go back to quilting.

Tena Starr
Staff Writer

The Caledonian-Record

26 January 2008

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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