NEWARK – Reaction continues to be strong – and frustrated – among Newark officials and many townspeople over the rulings late last week by the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) that the town’s amended plan will not be considered in a developer’s application to erect meteorological towers in the community.
Newark recently amended its town plan to ban industrial wind development in an attempt to prevent Seneca Mountain Wind, LLC, from building there.
The PSB also rejected the town’s efforts to have Seneca Mountain Wind’s application dismissed on the grounds that it had not properly notified all parties. The hearing officer for the board found the developer had filed a “substantially complete,” application, and denied the town’s Motion to Dismiss.
Both decisions, issued at week’s end by PSB Hearing Officer Bridgette Remington, were big blows to the town’s fight against the wind project – which now is only seeking to install the four meteorological or MET towers across the three rural communities, but who hope to propose a project of up to 35 wind turbines across the ridge lines in this remote part of the Northeast Kingdom.
Seneca Mountain Wind is a joint venture of Eolian Renewable Energy, LLC, of Portsmouth, NH and Chicago-based turbine manufacturer Nordex, USA. To erect the four MET towers, the developer must first obtain a Certificate of Public Good from the Public Service Board, a process that is ongoing now and will be for several more months.
The town revised its Town Plan in Newark and residents voted by a nearly 3-1 margin to pass the new plan, while there was a stay on the application by the developer, who had failed to notify all landowners. The PSB ruled that the developer’s application would be judged under the existing town plan, not the one recently adopted, devastating a strategy town officials had hoped would put a halt to their town being on this or any future wind developer’s radar screen going forward.
Efforts to obtain comment from Jack Kenworthy, the CEO for Eolian, in recent days have not been successful.
Kim Fried, chairman of the Town of Newark’s Planning Commission, said of the joint rulings against the town late last week, “My comments concerning the Town Plan, we’re of course reviewing what our options are and we’re frankly very surprised that the town and the town citizens would be ignored given that the Department of Public Service agreed with Newark’s position.”
“It’s extremely frustrating. the process is supposedly designed for citizen input and we find that it appears no matter or how we try to have an impact with the Public Service Board, we can’t make it a reality,” Fried said.
“This wasn’t just a request from a single intervenor, it wasn’t a request by a special interest group, this was a request from the citizens of Newark, and we thought maybe the governor might come out and take a stand and we’re still hoping that not only the governor will take a stand.”
Fried said it’s very worrisome to townspeople that the would-be developer “can’t even do title searches,” asking about issues that may impact health and the environment connected with the kind of development they are looking at. “This isn’t an application for a 750 gallon septic tank, this is an application that involves miles of land, miles or ridgelines,” he said. “It appears that the Public Service Board and the developer that they are obsessed with moving things forward.”
Monday afternoon, the citizens group Newark Neighbors United issued a press release about the two developments.
It stated, in part, “While the citizens group NEWARK NEIGHBORS UNITED (NNU) is disappointed with the Nov 15th ruling, this strengthens the resolve of NNU to stop the industrialization of Newark.”
“Citizens ask: Where are Vermonters in this process? Why aren’t Vermont’s small towns being heard? Do communities really matter? These questions are being asked throughout Vermont, wherever Industrial Wind projects are proposed.”
The group was critical, too, of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s promise, noting, “During his campaign Governor Shumlin stated ‘communities matter’ and that if a town voted against a project, he would support that town. The Governor has told Newark residents that he is in support of the Newark vote. While we appreciate the Governor’s sentiments, we need him to follow through on his promise and actively oppose this project.”
“We are delighted with the support we have received from our local legislators. We know that the Northeast Kingdom’s entire Senate delegation will support the moratorium on industrial wind project development being developed by Senator Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) and Senator Bob Hartwell (D-Bennington). We urge all members of the Senate to support this effort. We urge the Vermont House to undertake a similar effort,” NNU’s statement said.
Mark Whitworth, a member of the town’s planning commission, also issued a statement. He said he hoped the Governor’s Energy Siting Committee will review the record carefully of the notification problems of adjoining landowners in Newark by the developer and follow through on his promise to oppose Seneca’s project on behalf of the people of Newark.
“The developer has had to submit its application three times. All three of its submissions were flawed and incomplete,” he stated. “Nonetheless, the Board’s (PSB) attorney ruled that the third application was complete on Aug. 24th despite the developer’s failure to notify all adjoining property owners, as required by Vermont law.” The Newark Town Plan was amended to ban industrial wind, and voted in by selectmen in mid-September, he noted, saying, “It would seem pointless for the developer to construct its Newark MET tower. The only purpose of the tower is to measure wind for the eventual construction of industrial wind turbines. This type of development is clearly out of conformance with the current Newark Town Plan.”
“I expect the Governor to follow through on his promise to oppose Seneca’s project on behalf of the people of Newark,” stated Whitworth.
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