DERBY – The select board took up the question on Monday evening of whether to have a town meeting vote on support for wind projects but took no action.
The request for a referendum came from the planning commission, which voted last month to ask the select board for a non-binding referendum at town meeting.
Planning Commission Chairman Joe Profera asked the select board to come up with the wording, which Selectman Karen Jenne said should be put to voters by Australian ballot and not at the floor meeting.
“It will make it easier for us to know what to do with the town plan,” planning commission member Dave LaBelle said.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Selectman Steve Gendreau said.
“We should have a vote,” Select Board Chairman Brian Smith said.
Smith and Gendreau said they should have held one before, when a developer was proposing two turbines on Derby farms near Derby Line, Holland and the border.
Bryan Davis, who owns one of the farms where a turbine would have been erected, asked the planning commission for a referendum. So did others who support wind turbines on farms.
Smith suggested that the town ask whether voters support wind projects, and leave space for each voter to comment.
LaBelle said that was too complicated.
The commission just wants to know the public’s position on wind projects, he said. “Just yes or no.”
Profera said that the question could be whether voters support wind turbines of more than 250 feet.
That’s the size that Northeastern Vermont Development Association used in its call for a moratorium on industrial-scale wind projects.
The turbines on the Lowell ridgeline are 459 feet. The turbine proposed for the Derby farm owned by Bryan Davis was 425 feet tall. The small turbines on five properties in Derby are about 125 feet tall.
Gendreau asked if the question should differentiate between 400-foot-tall turbines or 80-foot turbines, suggesting that more people would support the smaller turbines.
But several people pointed out that a shorter turbine for the Michelle Judd property was opposed by neighbors as well.
Smith asked if the question should just be “Do you support wind energy in the town of Derby?”
Resident Lois Major said the question could ask if voters supported one turbine per farm only.
LaBelle noted that the Brighton survey on wind projects, which asks voters and taxpayers whether they support ridgeline wind projects, was due back to be counted this week.
Zoning Administrator Bob Kelley said he could draft a proposed referendum question for the board to consider at its next meeting.
The board will not meet Christmas Eve, but will next meet on Jan. 5 at 9 a.m. For the annual three-hour budget discussion.
This year the board will also look at adopting a capital budget as well on Jan. 5.
The board did not decide when to formalize a referendum question.The board can put a referendum question on the ballot when the warning and ballot language for town meeting is adopted later in January.
The issue was not on the agenda, since the planning commission had not sent a memo to the select board requesting it be on the agenda. The topic came up under other business.
The board didn’t want to tackle it without a full board present. Selectman Laura Dolgin was not at the meeting.
Last week, the planning commission watched a slide show and presentation by wind opponent Annette Smith and Justin Lindholm of Vermonters For A Clean Environment.
Smith said wind projects cause noise, affect communities and property values.
“It’s one of the most divisive issues we have ever seen,” Smith said.
She presented recent studies about some turbine noise that shows the health problems could affect people who live farther away from turbines than is currently considered safe.
A 2.2 megawatt turbine like what was proposed for the Davis farm would have a infra-sound impact zone right to Main Street in Derby Line, she said, based on one study.
She also pointed out that people in quiet rural areas are more sensitive to the noise than those who live in noisier urban settings where they already deal with traffic and other noises.
She suggested that town votes about wind projects are also divisive. “I am very leery of the votes,” she said.
In other business, the board announced that an audit performed as former town clerk and treasurer Nicole Daigle prepared to resign this fall found no problems.
Smith said auditor Gene Besaw told him the report will be ready soon for the board to review.
Besaw had “not found anything of significance that would cause concern,” Smith said.
The audit is a traditional one in Derby, done when a town official like a clerk is leaving office, selectmen said.