ANTRIM – The town’s planning board does not agree that a state panel has the jurisdiction to subdivide land on Tuttle Hill for a proposed wind farm.
Board members say determining land use regulations in Antrim is their job, and if the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee rules otherwise, it could create a loophole around town ordinances across the state in the future.
Board members decided Tuesday to have an attorney write a brief supporting the board’s opinion – that the planning board has the sole authority over subdivisions in Antrim – citing previous legal cases. The board also voted not to exceed $2,000 in legal fees drafting the brief.
Members Steve MacDonald and Michael D. Genest, who is the selectmen’s representative on the board, voted against both motions.
The state Site Evaluation Committee has to decide whether it has the power to subdivide the town’s land, as called for in Antrim Wind Energy’s proposed plan to install 10 turbines.
The committee was given jurisdiction of the wind farm project, estimated to be about 30 megawatts, last summer because of its large size.
Board member Martha Pinello said Antrim is in a unique situation because it is only the fourth town in the state to deal with developers building a wind farm, and it is the first of those towns that has specific land-use planning ordinances.
The subdivision proposed by Antrim Wind Energy, a subsidiary of Eolian Renewable Energy, does not meet the regulations the planning board requires. Most of the members voiced concerns that if the committee oversteps the board’s legal power to create and enforce those regulations, it will set a dangerous legal precedent.
“We just want to defend the ordinances we have,” board member Sarah VanderWende said.
Andrew Roblee, former chairman of the planning board who attended Tuesday’s meeting as a member of the public, said he understands the situation could set a precedent, but he does not think Antrim’s taxpayers should have to pay the legal fees to defend the planning board’s authority.
“I don’t think we should bear the costs of helping (the Site Evaluation Committee) make their decision,” he said.
The committee’s request for legal briefs was open to all intervenors, or individuals or groups that have a vested interest in the project. Along with the planning board, the intervenors include the Audubon Society of New Hampshire, the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, the town of Stoddard and several residents of Antrim.
Whether the wind farm project is approved is up to a subgroup of the Site Evaluation Committee, consisting of nine representatives from various agencies in the state.
The committee is currently collecting data to prepare for a hearing on the project in September. A final decision on whether the project receives a permit is expected later in the fall.
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