DERBY- Derby Town’s attorney Richard Saudek attended the select board meeting Monday evening to discuss where the town stands on the Derby Line Wind project. The meeting was delayed while the board waited for Saudek to show up. The board spent the time handling other matters.
Approximately 75 people, including the United States and Canadian media, Stanstead residents and town council members, and Stanstead Mayor Philippe Dutil crowded into the meeting room with some standing in the halls trying to hear the discussion.
Board chairman Brian Smith did not want to begin discussions about the proposed project until the attorney arrived, and wanted to go into executive session with the attorney to discuss if the town should vote on the project or not. But Smith was met with objections from the press regarding what can be discussed behind closed doors.
Smith walked over to Saudek as he entered and informed Saudek of the objection to executive session. Saudek stated the discussions could take place in an open meeting, and they did.
Saudek wants to try to “smoke out” the developer, Encore Redevelopment, whom Saudek has had trouble reaching, by going through the Public Service Board (PSB), to determine if Encore has slowed down the project or is moving forward at the same pace.
The Town of Derby has yet to take an official stand, something Saudek said is unusual. However, Saudek said it would be premature to vote at the meeting if the developer is in fact pulling back.
Select board member Karen Jenne said that the town needed to vote, adding that there have been many problems with the project and threats of lawsuits against the town if the project were to be supported.
Jenne made a motion to support the development, even though she is opposed to it, to put the matter before the board for a vote. Select board member Laura Dolgin said yes. Select board members Karen Jenne and Beula-Jean Shattuck voted no. Steve Gendreau abstained.
Later, Gendreau made a motion to hold a town-wide election to see how the majority of residents feels, however the motion did not receive a second.
Derby Line is officially opposed to the project, and Stanstead, Que., is opposed as well.
Discussion at the meeting centered on town strategy and exploring scenarios regarding the project.
Saudek said that even though the final decision on the project is up to the PSB, the board doesn’t like to ”trump” towns. However, the PSB could approve the project if it determines the project meets all criteria, Saudek noted. The PSB has a track record of approving wind projects, Saudek also pointed out.
Which way the PSB would go if the host town opposes the project is difficult to predict, Saudek added, but he warned that if the town opposes the project, the town would need to build a serious case if the developer does not withdraw the application.
Saudek also explained that if the Derby Select Board opposes the project, the board takes away all power for Saudek to negotiate with the developer. It was noted by a few in the audience that if the project is built, the developer would still have to pay property taxes.
Saudek warned that if the town doesn’t take a stand, the developer can view that as the town dealing itself out. “I’m not sure I would advise not taking a position,” he said.
Feelings are running high on both sides, Saudek said, calling the situation unstable. He said it may be time to reflect.
Saudek noted that other towns take a stand, and are more “confident.”
Audience participation was limited but opponents raised issues such as credibility with the developer, potential health effects and property values, while proponents talked about supporting farmers.
The developer failed to notify several abutting land owners, and the developer’s attorney wrote a letter of apology for the lack of notification.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s absurd,” Saudek stated, referring to the lack of notification.
Saudek also questioned whether the project actually qualifies for the state’s SPEED program as the developer says.
Many complained that the project is for the financial gain of a few but at the expense of nearby neighbors.
“Why is making money a crime?” Brian Smith questioned. Smith supports the project, often referencing private property rights. But he says he feels health issues are important.
Saudek said he will keep the select board informed.
Encore Redevelopment wants to construct two turbines, on two farms in Derby line. Each turbine would be more than 420 feet tall at the tip of the blade.
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