DERBY, Vt. – One lane of Canusa Avenue sits in the tiny hamlet of Beebe Plain, Vt. The other side of the same road is in Canada; in Stanstead, Quebec.
They always seemed to get along well, until the mayor of Stanstead threatened this weekend to cut the flow of drinking water from his town’s reservoir to the Vermonters in Beebe Plain.
“Well, the water thing was to get people’s attention,” Mayor Philippe Dutil told New England Cable News. “And I guess I got it.”
He wanted folks in Derby, Vt., the town Beebe Plain is a part of, to know just how angry he is with a plan to turn farmland in Derby into an electricity-generating wind farm. Dutil said he formerly supported the idea, until he learned how close the wind towers would sit to homes in his town. “[The towers] wouldn’t be allowed this close to people if they were in Canada,” Dutil said.
“We could power the whole village of Derby Line plus some,” beamed Bryan Davis, one of the project’s biggest backers.
One 425-foot tower would stand in the backyard of Davis’s dairy farm. Another would be placed across the street. They would start spinning next year, if the project is approved. The turbines would provide enough energy to power the farm and about 900 homes in the town, Davis said.
“It’s a question of safety,” Mayor Dutil said.
Dutil worries the blades will hurl ice across the border, create noise and shadows that could impact his citizens’ health, and devalue their property. In Vermont, vocal opponents have also said that the installation of large turbines severely damages fragile ecosystems and kills wildlife, including birds and bats.
The Derby project’s developer, Encore Redevelopment of Burlington, Vt., has refuted many those concerns on its website, promising the community it has several approaches planned to mitigate effects of the turbines. To date, there is yet to be a definitive study that shows wind turbines to have adverse consequences on the health of community members,” a message on Encore’s website reads.
The proposed towers would be more than three times the height of a backyard model now spinning on the site. Canadian opponents say the looming 425 feet height is just too high for the people who live so close, since Canadian homes sit just on the other side of the street.
“It’s really going to affect the Canadians more than it’ll affect the Americans,” Mayor Dutil said.
Wind supporters say there’s nothing to worry about. “If I live long enough, I want to build a house up here right next to the wind tower,” said farmer Phil Letourneau. “I don’t worry about it.”
Letourneau owns some of the land the farm would operate on, and hopes an additional third turbine will eventually be added on his property. That turbine has not been applied for through the public oversight process, Letourneau said.
“We have researched it and are very comfortable there won’t be any health issues,” Davis added. “If I thought there were any health issues, I’d be the last person that would be looking at this project.”
Letourneau and Davis expect the wind farm will pay between $75,000 and $100,000 in tax benefits each year for 25 years to its host communities in Vermont. But the state’s Public Service Board still has to rule on the project.
Meanwhile, debate on large wind turbines is now heating up on both sides of the border. Another charge from opponents is the towers are not efficient enough to be practical. Developers and utilities have historically stood by their output, however.
“It’s ugly,” Pierre D’Assy, a resident of Magog, Quebec, said of large towers. “We live with the landscape, too.”
“If you want energy, you have to get it from somewhere,” noted Derby resident Rene Gaudreau, who said he supports the towers as long as they don’t have adverse health impacts on neighbors.
“I think they look neat,” said Judy Nommik of Derby. “But I don’t think any place would have one opinion.”
As for whether Beebe Plain’s drinking water will dry up in the dispute, no one seems to believe it’ll come to that. But the mayor who made the threat wants to make sure Vermont utility regulators don’t forget about Stanstead. “It’s a two-way street,” Dutil said.
Mayor Dutil is helping organize a protest rally Sunday, May 6 at 1 p.m. at the historic Haskell Free Library and Opera House, which also straddles these cross-border communities of Derby and Stanstead. Dutil said at that event, more information about the impacts of the towers will be shared with guests.
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