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Wind developer: Delay vote on our plans

A developer contemplating construction in the Northeast Kingdom of the state’s largest commercial wind project announced Thursday his company will drop plans for turbines in any community that votes against the project – as long as the town-wide vote is postponed until the company’s plans are ripe.

“We will adhere to the result of a vote … if the vote occurs after we have made a detailed presentation of our wind project plans for that town, not before,” said Jack Kenworthy, manager of New Hampshire-based Seneca Mountain Wind.

The company has its eye on high hills and ridgelines in Island Pond, Ferdinand and Newark in remote northeastern Vermont. Seneca has leased hilltops that could accommodate up to 35 turbines, Kenworthy has said.

At the moment, Seneca is seeking approval from the state Public Service Board to put up wind-measuring towers to learn more about the project’s feasibility and to design the turbine layout.

In Newark, Seneca’s offer was greeted with skepticism by Selectboard Chairman Mike Channon.

“Don’t apply for a permit and then tell the town, hold off, we want to talk more about this,” he said. “This whole concept of being a ‘host community’ is ridiculous – we didn’t invite them in. We feel we are being bulldozed, not being a host.”

On the other hand, he said, his board “absolutely” expects to hold a town-wide vote, although the timing has not been decided.

In Brighton, Selectboard Chairwoman Melinda Gervais-Lamoureux said she found Seneca’s letter more “confusing” than anything else.

“I don’t know what to think personally,” she said. “We’ve held multiple meetings, they’ve met with the planning board, they had an open house, they sent out a survey – and now they are saying we shouldn’t have a vote until they propose a project. Are they saying there is no project now?”

Her board, too, has discussed holding a town-wide vote, she said.

Voters in the Unincorporated Towns and Gores of Essex County, which include Ferdinand, took a vote at their summer town meeting and supported the wind farm, 24-16.

Seneca’s plans have ignited fierce opposition among residents of Newark, where more than half of registered voters have signed a petition against the project. Gervais-Lamoureux said people in Brighton are “riled up” on both sides of the issue.

Persuading the communities to postpone a vote until after a detailed plan for the wind farm is available would make the project’s details clearer. It would also give the developer more time to persuade voters to its point of view and to put its financial offer to the towns on the table. In other towns, the promise of substantial property tax payments by wind developers has helped convince residents to support wind farms.