Half the Milton Elementary gymnasium was filled Tuesday, Nov. 10 when residents expressed mixed opinions over five proposed wind turbines atop Georgia Mountain that could provide clean energy at the expense of a scenic ridgeline.
The hearing was the Vermont Public Service Board’s second in a process to determine if Jim Harrison and Kathy Rabtoy of Harrison Concrete will get a permit to build 443-foot turbines on a prominent mountain summit that spans the Milton and Georgia line.
Suzanne Affinati of Milton was for the project, citing the need to reduce fossil fuel consumption.
“Having the wind blow and make energy – what could be better than that?” she asked.
Gary Wright, a small business owner in Georgia, saw economic benefit from the project as an alternative to expensive electricity costs.
According to the Harrisons’ proposal, each turbine will generate three megawatts of energy, enough to power 3,500 households.
Bill Rowell was also for the turbines, saying that the state’s contract with the much-debated Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, which supplies one-third of the state’s electricity, is running out.
“We’re probably not going to have the opportunity in Vermont to build another nuclear plant if we can’t even build a wind tower without a great deal of objection,” Rowell said.
Heidi FitzGerald of Milton, daughter of Dan and Tina FitzGerald who are a formal opposed party to the project, was against the turbines, citing safety hazards.
“Each of these turbines also hold gallons of oil that is changed on a yearly basis with also the possibly of leakage of oil that could contaminate the water supplies of surrounding land owners.”
FitzGerald also brought up another major point of contention: that the turbines could spoil the scenic beauty of the mountain. She pointed out that the turbines would dwarf Vermont’s tallest structure, the Bennington Battle Monument that stands at just over 300 feet.
“These turbines will dominate the landscape for miles around,” she said.
Joseph Millette agreed with FitzGerald, saying, “We’re going to take some of the most beautiful mountains and destroy them for a few towers.”
Rick Sharp of Milton disagreed. He plans to build a bed and breakfast at his recreational park on Cobble Hill, which would face Georgia Mountain. He thinks tourists will enjoy looking at the turbines.
“They will see it not as ugly industrial scars on the land, but instead as beacons of smart technology,” Sharp said.
Yet Kristian Preylowski, who lives on Georgia Mountain, saw the turbines as an eyesore that will only add to the problem of energy consumption.
“[Industrial wind] is plastic surgery for natural beauty, it’s a cosmetic cure and nothing more, it’s putting lipstick on a pig,” he said.
He accused wind developers of “greenwashing,” or using misleading information to promote an environmentally-friendly image.
R.J. Potter of Milton lamented that developers are just out to make a buck at the expense of the environment.
“[Wind towers] are an expensive, reckless approach designed to make money; simply put, wind turbines don’t make good neighbors,” he said, earning applause from the audience.
Brian Wright agreed, citing his concerns over noise levels.
“If this goes in and I hear noise, you lost a Vermonter,” he said. “I’m going somewhere else.”
Roger Dickinson of Milton acknowledged these complaints but said in time, residents would realize the benefits. He cited the construction of Milton Falls Dam that created Lake Arrowhead in 1927, saying people complained then, but today, they realize the value of hydropower.
“Seventy years from now, we’ll look back at this project and we’ll be glad we did it,” Dickinson said, citing concerns over global warming. “I, as a resident of Milton, would be very proud to look at Georgia Mountain and see those windmills generating power.”
The Public Service Board will use these comments to inform its decision, made sometime after formal parties attend evidentiary hearings in February and submit legal briefs. Until then, the board will accept written opinions from all residents.
Closing out the one-hour hearing, board member John Burke commended both sides for their feedback and for keeping their comments civil over the highly contested issue.
“You did it humanely,” Burke said, “and with the understanding that you’re all going to be neighbors in the morning.”