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Turbine developers move forward, town says no

A special vote Monday night in the town of Newark delivered an unambiguous message to developers: Commercial-scale wind projects are unwelcome on those Northeast Kingdom ridgelines.

Wind energy executives on Tuesday said the vote pre-judged projects that haven’t left the drawing board – and plans to assess potential sites will continue.

Monday’s 169-59 vote by Newark residents directed Selectboard members to amend the town plan to deem industrial wind turbines incompatible with the region’s aesthetics and ecology.

The Selectboard voted unanimously to adopt the amendment, according to Newark Planning Commission member Mark Whitworth.

Joint venture wind developers Seneca Mountain Wind is proceeding with plans to install four meteorological test-towers in the area before winter, said project manager Jack Kenworthy.

Estimates by Seneca raise the possibility of 35 turbines arrayed through Caledonia and Essex counties – what would be Vermont’s largest wind farm.

Kenworthy, CEO of Portsmouth, N.H.-based Eolian Renewable Energy, said Newark’s vote is a valid, but incomplete, measure of town sentiment.

In August, Seneca informed municipal governments that it would abide by public votes in deciding to advance or cancel a wind project – but only after the developer has had a fair chance to outline the scope of its plans.

Should Seneca find the region suitable for wind development, Kenworthy said, it would present details of siting and payments, as well as visual simulations of the project.

“We’d like the towns to vote on something meaningful,” he said.

Some residents haven’t waited for further clarification.

A vote at the summer town meeting of the Unincorporated Towns and Gores of Essex County delivered support to the wind project, 24-16.

Newark’s amended town plan leans unambiguously the other way.

It states that commercial or industrial development should not take place at elevations higher than 1,700 feet and should not exceed 125 feet in height, according to a statement released Tuesday by the Newark Planning Commission.

“The developers insisted that they understood our town plan better than we did and dismissed the objections of the Selectboard, the Planning Commission and the citizens of Newark,” wrote Planning Commission Chairman Kim Fried.

“We were left with no choice but to strengthen the Newark Town Plan,” he added, “so that it would be impossible to misconstrue it.”