ISLAND POND – Within the next few days every registered voter and property taxpayer in the town of Brighton can expect to receive a ballot in the mail. That ballot asks the recipient whether or not they favor, oppose or remain undecided on the issue of industrial wind projects on ridgelines within the town. Though the results of the balloting are non-binding, the town’s selectmen agreed that they would support the majority decision expressed by respondents.
The ballots were mailed on Tuesday and must be postmarked no later than December 7 to be included in the voting. The selectmen agreed to wait a few extra days for any wayward ballots but only those mailed on or before the due date will be eligible for consideration.
Ensuring the integrity of the balloting process was paramount, chairman of the selectmen Melinda Gervais said. Each envelope provided with the ballot contains the return address of the recipient allowing town officers to check off the voter or taxpayer.
The ballot within will be kept folded before being secured in a locked ballot box stored in the vault in the basement of the municipal office, Ms. Gervais said. Only Town Clerk Teresa Potwin has access to the key that opens the vault, she added.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure no one can get in there and stuff the ballot box,” Ms. Gervais said. “We want this to represent the wishes of this town.”
Earlier in the evening the selectmen were asked what measures the town would take to protect the people of the town from possible negative effects of industrial wind turbines. Resident Kathleen Nelson expressed her concern that oversight of the developers is sorely lacking. The Public Service Board, she said, appears to have no interest at all in evaluating the financial capability of developers. If a project fails or produces negative effects, would the taxpayers of the town become responsible for making reparations, she asked.
“How are you going to stop these people from ruining everything I’ve worked so hard to build?” Ms. Nelson said. “What are you going to do to protect me?”
It is difficult to say what steps the town can take considering the project has not even passed the met tower stage, Ms. Gervais said. Protecting the public is a job best suited to the regulators both at the state and federal level, Selectman James Webb said.
“I guess that’s where the state and whatever regulations they have come into play,” Mr. Webb said. “As long as they follow the rules, I don’t see what we can do.”
The state’s interest in protecting the public seems tenuous at best, resident Joe Arborio said. The Public Service Board makes its decisions without ever needing to accept any responsibility for the outcomes of those decisions, he said.
“If it goes wrong they have no responsibility,” Mr. Arborio said. “It’s what I imagine living in a dictatorship would be like – here it is, deal with it.”
Evaluating the financial stability of a developer falls outside of the town’s jurisdiction, Brighton Administrative Assistant Joel Cope said. As long as the developer comes in with the money in hand there is no reason for the town to become involved, he said. It would be different, however, if the developer sought the town’s support for a grant, Mr. Cope added.
“If the town became involved in the financing of a project we would certainly involve an attorney and closely review the risk,” Mr. Cope said.
Ms. Nelson also expressed concern about the potential for the town to become mired in litigation should the developer fail to live up to its promises. Given the problems that have surfaced around other wind projects both in Vermont and around the nation, the potential for the town needing to litigate seems high, Pam Arborio said.
“I think this is going to end up in the judicial arena before it’s all over,” Ms. Arborio said.
While some people have come forward to express concerns about the negative effect wind turbines would have on the town, those fears represent only half of the issue, Selectman Mike Worth said.
“The other half will be asking what we’re going to do to promote renewable energy in this state,” Mr. Worth said. “That’s why we’re doing this survey – so we can find out what the majority of people want. I will do what the town supports.”
Ms. Gervais concluded the discussion with a pledge to give serious consideration to all sides of the issue. What stance the selectmen will adopt going forward will be heavily influenced by the outcome of the balloting.
“We all have our own opinions about this but we’re willing to put that aside and represent the people of this town,” Ms. Gervais said. “We’re trying to prepare and get our information ready for when the project finally comes down.”
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