ANTRIM – The Antrim Select Board voted to appeal the state ruling that denied a 10-turbine wind project after deciding to accept a $40,000 offer from Antrim Wind in a contentious meeting Monday that led to one resident being escorted out by police and several others walking away in frustration.
The board had earlier decided to continue a public hearing that started on April 29 regarding a $40,000 offer from Antrim Wind Energy to improve visual aesthetics at Gregg Lake. At the continuation on Monday, the Select Board agreed to accept the offer from the wind developer as acceptable compensation for negative visual impacts a wind farm would have on the town.
Whether or not the town sees the money hinges on whether the state’s Site Evaluation Committee reverses its original decision that ruled against the development.
In voting to file an appeal, the board will formally request that the SEC either enter a rehearing process or reconsider its decision through deliberations with attorneys on both sides of the issue.
The $40,000 offer was first made on March 15 when Antrim Wind Energy submitted the offer via a letter to town officials.
“In this agreement, the towers have to be up and running before we get the $40,000,” Select Board Chair Gordon Webber said Monday night.
At the April 29 public hearing, there was unanimous concern from those who spoke over the acceptance of the $40,000 offer. Monday night’s continuation saw roughly equal responses both in favor of and against the offer.
“I just believe there is no logical reason to not accept this money,” resident Chris Condon said Monday at the hearing. “It’s baffling to me that we would say $40,000 is less than zero.”
The continuation of the public hearing Monday turned controversial when Webber asked Antrim police officer Brian Lord to escort resident Janet McEwen from the Town Hall for being out of order. McEwen tried to bring up a point of order while Webber read out loud a public letter submitted by a resident intended to be input into the hearing record.
Upon speaking up, McEwen was immediately warned by Webber, who stated she would be thrown out if she continued to be disruptive. She called for another point of order and was asked to leave. Once McEwen left, a handful of other residents, including wind project opponents Richard Block and Brian Beihl, stood up and walked out on their own.
“I think we all felt that anything that didn’t agree with the Select Board’s opinion was being suppressed,” Beihl said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I think the selectmen were totally out of line. She did in fact have a right to speak.”
Beihl sent town officials an email Tuesday morning asking for a public apology to be issued by the Select Board to McEwen, and would also like to reopen the public hearing to reconsider the $40,000 offer.
Block said in a phone interview Tuesday that he would like to take it a step further and bring in the attorney general’s office to determine the legality of Webber’s actions.
“That move [to remove McEwen] was highly illegal,” Block said. “It goes against the Constitution and freedom of speech. It was a blatant abuse of his power.”
Block attended the previous public hearing on April 29, which he called a complete farce because he and others believed the Select Board had made a predetermined decision to sign the letter accepting the money.
After Monday night’s decision to sign the letter and motion for a rehearing or reconsideration to be submitted to the SEC, Block said it all confirms his judgment.
“It’s all part of the indication of how willing they are to follow their own agenda,” he said.
In a phone interview Wednesday, McEwen said, “My only comment is that the selectmen’s behavior speaks for itself.”
Webber said in a phone interview Tuesday that the Select Board follows Robert’s Rules of Order for meetings, and that points of order can only be made at a public meeting where members in the audience vote on the subject matter. At a public hearing, where only the governing body votes on the subject at hand, points of order cannot be made by the audience.
He added that he was reading a letter submitted by resident Cynthia Crockett, which was intended for the hearing record, when McEwen interrupted.
“In the earlier meeting I read probably four to five letters opposed to the project, and several didn’t even specify the $40,000 offer,” Webber said. “When others went off topic against the $40,000, they [wind project opponents] were OK with it. Now when someone’s letter supporting the $40,000 went off topic, she spoke up. … I did caution her saying she does not have the floor. I felt I gave her a fair warning to stop talking”
Town moderator Arthur Merrill said in a phone interview Tuesday that Webber’s actions were correct, in his opinion. The fact that Webber was merely reading a letter into the record should not have given McEwen cause to speak up, and he said he wished the crowd that left had stayed for the duration of the hearing.
“I just think it’s too bad that these people get up and leave if they don’t get their way,” Merrill said.
McEwen had been warned several times by Webber to stop talking, Merrill said.
The SEC, Webber said, may put more weight on the fact that appeals are coming from not just the wind developer, but the town as well during a rehearing or reconsideration process. Webber, Block and Beihl all stated they did not believe the acceptance of $40,000 would sway anyone away from testifying at a rehearing should one be granted.
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