DERBY – For the first time, a majority of the Derby Select Board has gone on the record in opposition to the Derby Line Wind Project.
In a split decision Wednesday, the board pulled the plug on negotiations with the developer of two industrial-sized turbines on farm fields in Derby, near the U.S.-Canadian border.
And a majority of board members indicated that they want to vote soon on whether to oppose the project officially.
The decision Wednesday means that the town’s attorney Richard Saudek no longer has the authority to seek a contract for Derby with Encore Redevelopment that would guarantee annual payments to the town, selectmen said after the meeting.
The board stopped short of a vote on whether it would support or oppose the wind project.
Saudek told the board in a letter that it would be premature to vote on the project now. Jenne said she would seek such a vote at the next regular meeting May 14.
Encore Redevelopment spokesman Nick Richardson said support from Derby “is very important.”
Select Board members Steve Gendreau and Beula-Jean Shattuck for the first time expressed concern about the project. They voted with wind opponent Select woman Karen Jenne against giving the attorney the go-ahead to negotiate a contract.
Voting for the motion was wind supporter Select woman Laura Dolgin. Chairman Brian Smith, also a supporter, did not vote.
Dolgin said the motion was to allow Saudek to see what Encore would offer, and bring that back to the board. Encore has offered $78,000 annually to Derby over the life of the 25-year project, if approved by state utility regulators.
Jenne warned that a ‘yes’ vote on negotiations implied that the board supports the project.
Gendreau expressed reservations.
“It bothered me about parties that didn’t get notification,” he said.
“I think we are doing the wrong thing” by encouraging this, he added. “Is $70,000 or $40,000 a year worth it?”
“If it was up on a ridge, well, it’s not in my backyard. … I sympathize with our Canadian friends. … I don’t want to back stab these people,” Gendreau said.
After the meeting, Shattuck said she has stayed neutral until now. But she has seen the outpouring of concern.
“Therefore I am against going forward on this,” she said.
Smith after the meeting said that Encore will go forward, and the decision will be up to the Public Service Board.
“If these towers are erected, we will get nothing,” he said.
“Support from Derby is very important,” Richardson said after the meeting. It wasn’t clear to him that the Derby board had said they oppose it. He hoped that the board would give their attorney a chance to explain about what an agreement.
The agreement would have defined how Encore would work with the town in the construction and operation of the wind turbines, just like an agreement under Saudek’s direction between the town of Lowell and Green Mountain Power over the Lowell wind project.
It would also help identify whether some issues must be resolved by quasi-judicial hearings before the Public Service Board.
Saudek said in his letter that he would seek an extension of the deadline to reach a memorandum of understanding with all parties involved in the hearings, including the state agencies and the towns of Holland and Derby and village of Derby Line, and present them to the Vermont Public Service Board. And issues that can’t be settled would be resolved at formal technical hearings.
“I suspect the project will move on with or without us,” Dolgin said.
Smith asked Gendreau if he wanted a yes-or-no vote.
“If we vote against it, the PSB will say ‘They don’t want it there’ and stop it,” Gendreau said.
Gendreau said it was time for the board to vote on the project. “We need to poop or get off the pot, pretty quick.”
Jenne agreed. After the meeting, she said “the town needs to vote this project … up or down.”
“It’s up to the select board to make this decision and stop messing around with it,” Shattuck said.
After the vote, Smith allowed some of the 60 plus people present to comment with TV cameras rolling.
The remaining four members of the wind committee, which was left drifting without a chairwoman who resigned Monday, recommended that the Derby Select Board oppose the wind project.
Three of the four are seeking to intervene in the hearings and are opposed to the project. Committee member Vicky Lewis said the committee reached that recommendation based on concerns over the impacts on health, property values, potential liability to the town, turbine locations and community divisiveness.
“Encore Redevelopment’s slow response and/or lack of response to concerns presented by residents and the town has created a credibility and accountability concern,” she said.
Michelle Ducharme, a town councillor in Stanstead, Quebec, pointed out that an “invisible fine line” separates the town of Derby from the town of Stanstead.
A lone voice of support came from Adam Batista, a 20-year-old resident, who said he wanted to bring change to the environment.
Richardson stood to speak, with Derby farmer and turbine host Bryan Davis seated by his side, saying that Encore had tried to do the best it could to inform the neighbors.
A lot of concern and fear is misplaced, he said. He said he hoped that people would communicate with each other truthfully even if the town does not support the project.
Terry Hartley of Stanstead warned that he and his neighbors would have to take legal action against Derby if it supports the wind project.
The hearing officer for the Public Service Board, John Cotter, is due to rule soon on whether a group of Derby and Holland neighbors, along with the town of Stanstead and a large group of Stanstead property owners, can become “intervenors” with status in the hearings to question testimony from Encore.
Encore’s attorney has proposed that deadline be moved up a week.
Cotter did not say whether he would allow the Canadians to intervene and whether he would allow the Derby and Holland group to get in because they applied late.
It has become clear from past Section 248 hearings that support from the host town has been important in the consideration of wind projects.
Lowell and Sheffield held public votes on it. Derby did not, but there was no request or petition for such a vote by either select board members or by the public at town meeting.