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Residents question why wind developer wrote town’s appeal

ANTRIM – A handful of residents remain angry that the town’s Select Board voted to appeal a state decision that denied a proposed wind farm, but what really struck the wrong chord with those residents was learning that the town motion submitted to the Site Evaluation Committee was authored by an attorney for the wind developer.

In a Microsoft Word document obtained by resident Richard Block, the properties of the document name Susan Geiger, the attorney for Antrim Wind Energy, as the main author of the town’s appeal to the SEC. Antrim Wind Energy is a subsidiary of Eolian Renewable Energy, which originally proposed a 10-turbine wind farm that would have been constructed on the ridge line of Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain.

Block’s wife, Loranne Block, said in a phone interview Monday that if you go into the Word file’s properties, you can find who wrote and edited the document. Geiger is noted as the primary author, while the edit history lists Jack Kenworthy, CEO of Eolian Renewable Energy.

Antrim Town Administrator Galen Stearns said in a phone interview Thursday that the town isn’t trying to hide the fact that Geiger authored the town’s appeal. Stearns said that the wind developer’s attorney drafted the motion for rehearing, and it was sent back and forth several times between Geiger and the town for modifications.

“The selectmen have always supported the project and felt the majority of the town has supported the project,” Stearns said. “[The motion for rehearing] went back and forth to where the selectmen agreed on it.”

He added that having Geiger draft the appeal was an attempt to speed up the process.

Geiger drafted the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement that was also signed by the town, Stearns said.

Loranne Block said that the implication, one can only assume, is that the Select Board is back to closed-door decision making.

“The lack of ethics is really astounding,” she said. She added that the final paragraph of the motion for rehearing mentioned the letter of acceptance regarding a $40,000 offer from Antrim Wind as compensation for any perceived visual impacts as a sticking point for the SEC to grant a rehearing. However the letter accepting Antrim Wind’s financial offer was signed minutes before the motion for rehearing, leading some residents to believe that the Select Board had its own agenda in this situation.

Resident Brian Beihl echoed Loranne’s sentiments regarding the perception of clouded judgment of the Select Board.

“Antrim selectmen are lobbying for a private organization,” Beihl said in a phone interview Monday. “It appears now that the selectmen have been compromised. Personally I think the SEC will frown on the cozy relationship between the two parties.”

Select Board Chair Gordon Webber said in a phone interview Monday that he and Stearns had the conversation with Kenworthy about the appeal, and Kenworthy offered to have Geiger and Antrim Wind’s law firm, Orr and Reno, draft the motion.

Webber said there was nothing secretive about the motion just because some residents weren’t aware of the authorship. He said it also saves the town money by not having Upton and Hatfield, Antrim’s employed law firm, draft an appeal.

“My thought was we were going to do it [make the motion for a rehearing] anyway, so why not save the town some money?” Webber said.

If the fees for Antrim Wind to file the motion exceeded $5,000, the town would need to hold another public hearing to hear opinions about whether or not to accept the gift. Although Webber wasn’t sure how much Antrim Wind paid to have its firm draft the motion, he said the total did not exceed $5,000.

Richard Block said in a phone interview Monday that the one of the other issues at hand is the fact that the Select Board never gave the public any indication the town planned on submitting this appeal. The fact that the motion for rehearing was presented right after the acceptance of the $40,000 offer, with it already referred to in the motion, means the two public hearings were complete shams, he said.

“To me, that’s very deceptive,” Richard said.

At the May 13 public hearing regarding the $40,000 offer, Webber had resident Janet McEwen escorted out for being disruptive. After she left, a number of other residents willingly walked out. Webber and Stearns both said that because they left the meeting, they missed the discussion surrounding the motion for rehearing which disclosed the authorship information.

“It’s too bad they left the meeting because I asked for comments on the motion,” Webber said.