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Castleton considers vote on wind project

CASTLETON – Voters may weigh in on the proposed commercial wind project later this year.

The Select Board is considering including a non-binding memorandum in the upcoming Primary Day or General Election ballots.

“If its non-binding, I see no problem with it,” said Select Board Chairman Thomas Ettori.

The vote was proposed by John Hale, chairman of the Planning Commission, at a recent board meeting. He said the motivation for the vote was two-fold: It would present the residents’ position on wind development on the Grandpa’s Knob ridgeline, and will help support their case against its development.

“I have heard from the developers that the protestors are a few people in the town and that they do not present the entire town,” Hale said. “The vote would refute that completely.”

The project in question is the proposed Reunion Power 20-turbine wind farm. Most recently, the select boards in the four proposed host towns – Hubbardton, Castleton, West Rutland and Pittsford – have voted to oppose the project.

Steve Eisenberg, project manager with Reunion Power, said the company has always been in favor of towns holding a public vote on the matter and it would be a good way to get the public’s opinion on the project.

“(A vote) is something that a developer would have to consider,” he said. “It would be a serious consideration.”

As proposed, the question would read, “Do you think commercial/industrial wind towers should be allowed on Vermont’s mountain ridgelines?”

Hale said when he crafted the wording, he began with a question specific to Castleton but determined it was actually a regional and state issue as well.

Townwide votes are not planned in the other towns at this time, although the idea has been discussed in the past, town officers said.

“Based on the last vote, we would not be doing a townwide vote,” said Mary Goulette, town manager in West Rutland. “I don’t expect we will.”

Pittsford Town Manager John Haverstock said the topic has been discussed before the Select Board, but it would be up to the board if a vote would go forward. He said he does not believe there will be one.

“The board feels comfortable they had enough knowledge to make these difficult decisions,” he said.

In a recent interview, Gov. Peter Shumlin weighed in on wind power in the area and the importance of local input in the state’s proposed wind projects. He said he was not sure he agreed with the idea that the anti-wind communities in this area are a sign of growing opposition to wind in Vermont.

“Every energy project has a price,” he said. “There’s never going to be an energy project that doesn’t have opposition. … I think we’re doing wind the smart way in Vermont – slowly, methodically, with information and with public votes.”

“I think if a community votes not to have wind in this state, the project will not go forward,” Shumlin added.

The governor would not comment on specific projects, but said the mounting effects of climate change, such as more intense storms on the East Coast and drought in the Midwest, require action.