May 2, 2012

Derby wind: Board votes on project tonight

Robin Smith, Staff Writer, 2 May 2012

DERBY – It’s decision time.

The Derby Select Board, under pressure on all sides, decided at another contentious meeting Monday evening to finally hold a vote tonight on whether to support or oppose the Derby Line Wind Project.

The divided board will meet tonight at 6 p.m. in the town office meeting room in a specially warned meeting to settle the issue at the request of the board’s attorney.

It’s not clear what will happen: only three of the five select board members have publicly indicated their positions on the two industrial wind turbines slated for two farms in Derby near Derby Line village, Holland and Stanstead, Quebec.

Selectman Brian Smith, the board’s chairman, is in favor of the project, as is Selectman Laura Dolgin. Selectman Karen Jenne is opposed.

Selectman Steve Gendreau wanted the board to hire attorney Richard Saudek to negotiate a contract with Encore Redevelopment over the wind project but he hasn’t taken a stand on the issue recently.

And Selectman Beula-Jean Shattuck has said several times that she needed more information.

The board has sidestepped the issue over the past months, taking votes to hire Saudek and form an ad hoc committee to recommend contract language to Saudek and the board.

But the committee, composed of both opponents and those willing to consider it, reached an impasse and got little work done on recommendations.

On Monday evening, committee Chairwoman Sue Best, on behalf of the town’s attorney, put the board on the spot.

“I am here tonight to ask you to bring it to a vote,” Best said.

Both the committee and the attorney need guidance from the board, she said, asking for a vote Monday night so the committee could get to work Tuesday.

But the board, faced with outspoken complaints from Jenne and opponents – who said that the vote was not warned on the agenda and threatened to sue – opted not to vote Monday but set up the special meeting.

Dolgin did move for a vote, saying the issue was under old business, with Shattuck seconding the motion, but opponents in the audience erupted.

Resident Glenda Nye yelled that she would sue the board if it went ahead.

Shattuck backed off, and the motion failed.

“You called me a nutcase,” Nye said to Smith.

“If the shoe fits …,” Smith responded.

Smith asked for a vote on the spot, saying he couldn’t face another meeting with “100 people in here screaming and hollering.”

Shattuck offered to chair tonight’s meeting.

Best said she had no choice but to resign as committee chairwoman. As she left the room, she hurled complaints at opponents who she indicated blocked progress.

“You are sitting on a biased committee,” Smith said, sympathizing with Best’s decision.

Smith said the committee was supposed to work together for the benefit of the town. He accused one of the opponents on the committee, without naming them, of trying to sabotage negotiations with Encore.

Jenne, a member of the committee, admitted that she wanted a contract that would make it difficult for the project to go forward. Jenne’s mother is a party in the hearings before state utility regulators on the wind project.

Vicky Lewis, another committee member, said that the board knew that they opposed and were fighting the project when they were appointed. Lewis is also seeking party status to fight the project.

When asked what the board would do about Best’s resignation, Smith said, “If it were up to me I would disband it and appoint a new one.”

The board did not act on the committee vacancy or lack of direction.

There may not be time for any committee to act.

Derby is under the gun to reach an agreement with Encore to present to the state utility regulators on the Vermont Public Service Board. If a deal isn’t reached in time, the project could receive certification and the town might lose an offer of $78,000 annually in tax payments from Encore.

“Then Encore doesn’t have to give the town anything,” Smith said.

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