ANTRIM – Town officials will appear in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester on Wednesday to answer a lawsuit filed against the town in July 2012 by residents who allege the Select Board conducted illegal meetings with Antrim Wind Energy LLC., in violation of the state’s Right-To-Know law.
Residents are asking the court to invalidate the 20-year payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreement signed by the town. The agreement calls for Antrim Wind to pay $337,500 in the first year of operation of a proposed 10-turbine wind farm, with that amount increasing 2.5 percent annually, for a final payment in the 20th year of $536,385.
The wind farm is proposed for construction on the ridgeline of Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain . But the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee voted not to deny the project in early February; an appeal to overturn the SEC’s decision is possible once the SEC’s final written order is released.
A handful of residents first filed a request with the town in summer 2012 for information about meetings that took place between the Select Board and Antrim Wind on Feb. 14, 2011, March 7, 2011, April 5, 2011, August 24, 2011, and April 25, 2012. When information and meeting minutes were not forthcoming, the residents filed a lawsuit..
Gordon and Mary Allen, Charlie Levesque, Martha Pinello, and Janice Longgood filed the suit on July 20, 2012, claiming the Select Board held illegal nonpublic meetings with Antrim Wind and its counsel, and failed to post minutes for some of the meetings. They also asked town officials to make public over 1,300 emails exchanged between Antrim Wind representatives and town officials , which the town later did.
The petitioners received a letter on June 19, 2012, from town attorney John Upton of Upton & Hatfield in Concord, stating that pursuant to RSA 72:74 municipalities are allowed the opportunity to enter into a PILOT agreement with energy facilities and that “these types of negotiations would not occur in a public meeting.”
Town Administrator Galen Stearns said in a phone interview Tuesday, “The final outcome and signing of the agreement itself was all done at a public hearing.”
Stearns said he will be present on April 10 at the court in Manchester, potentially with members of the Select Board.
Levesque is also planning to attend Wednesday’s hearing. He said in a phone interview Wednesday that the petitioners took issue with the way the town conducted the meetings, which he said were held in secret.
Levesque said the lawsuit is still targeted at the PILOT agreement with Antrim Wind. “It’s just taken the court this long to get a court date,” he said.
The petition states that the public was not given the opportunity to attend, to take notes or to record the meetings, in which the taxation agreement was forged.
The lawsuit argues that officials violated RSA 91-A pertaining to access to governmental records and meetings, specifically RSA 91-A:3, which relates to nonpublic sessions.
Select Board Chair Gordon Webber was a member of the board in the past, but took a term off to have knee surgery. Webber was not on the board at the time the lawsuit was filed in the summer, but has been involved with the case since his election in March. “I can’t say much since I wasn’t on the board, but the town attorney has advised us that all the meetings [the Select Board] held were proper,” Webber said in a phone interview Wednesday.
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