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Grafton to talk wind at town meeting

GRAFTON – Town meeting voters will get to debate the pros and cons of the proposed wind project in Grafton and Windham.

Select Board Chairman Allan Sands said Tuesday the Select Board had included an article in the 2013 town warrant that would allow a full discussion of the proposal.

The wording of the article is: “Shall the Select Board continue conversations with Meadowsend Timber and their developer, Atlantic Wind (Iberdrola), for the purpose of collecting information to share with the voters of Grafton?”

“Once the met tower data has been collected, a potential effect on Grafton has been reviewed, the voters of Grafton will hold a non-binding vote to accept or deny the proposed project. The outcome of that vote will be sent to the Public Service Board.”

Sands said the Select Board – after consulting with the town attorney and an attorney with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns – agreed that a petitioned article, calling for the town to prohibit large-scale industrial wind facilities, wasn’t legal.

Grafton’s town meeting is March 5.

Sands said that in Vermont, only the Public Service Board had sole authority over power facilities, such as the one under consideration by Iberdrola Renewables, one of the world’s largest energy companies.

But Liisa Kissel of Friends of Grafton’s Heritage, and the author of the rejected petition, said state law governing power facilities wasn’t as black and white as the Select Board said.

“That’s a matter of interpretation,” Kissel said. “The PSB must give the town’s viewpoint ‘due consideration,’” she said.

Kissel’s petition asked: “Shall the town prohibit large scale industrial wind installations in Grafton?”

Kissel said her group had hired an attorney and was “evaluating the legal aspects of this. That’s all I can say. We are very disappointed that the town elected to take the action that they did. These are matters of interpretation.”

Kissel said that at least the matter will be discussed at town meeting. “That’s what our petition was intended to achieve,” she said.

According to Sands, the Select Board on Thursday afternoon received Kissel’s petition, which it was expecting, and faxed it to Robin Stern, the town’s attorney, as well as the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. Within 40 minutes, Sands said, the town had identical opinions that Kissel’s petition wasn’t legal. The board was finalizing the town warning that afternoon, he said.

“Why would you put that on the warning and allow the voters to vote? They would have a false sense they have accomplished something. Why would you do that?” Sands said.

Instead, voters will get to vote on Article 3, which asks voters if the Select Board should continue “conversations” with Iberdrola and Meadowsend, the landowner where the wind towers would be, and eventually bring the matter back to a “non-binding” vote.

Iberdrola recently received permission from the Public Service Board to erect three meteorological or “met” towers, to measure wind on Meadowsend’s 5,000-acre property, of which 3,500 acres are in Windham and 1,500 acres are in Grafton.