ANTRIM – A group of residents asked the Select Board on Monday to allow voters to decide whether the town should hold an easement for Antrim Wind Energy, whose stalled project is weeks away from a critical hearing with the state’s Site Evaluation Committee.
The Select Board also agreed Monday to hold public deliberations on Thursday regarding a new proposed payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreement with the wind developer.
Both the easement and the PILOT agreement, however, could be moot points as soon as July 10 if the SEC upholds its earlier ruling that the wind project didn’t meet the aesthetics of the area.
The Select Board will deliberate publicly Thursday after closing public hearings Monday night on the 100-acre Bean conservation easement the town would hold for Antrim Wind Energy.
A petition authored by a handful of residents with more than 100 signatures was submitted to the Select Board by Richard Block, a resident opposing the wind farm, during the continuation of a public hearing regarding the 100-acre Bean conservation easement leased by Antrim Wind Energy. The petition asks for the easement to be placed on the town’s warrant for next year’s Town Meeting in March.
The board cannot discuss the conservation easement Thursday following the petition, Select Board Chair Gordon Webber said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Webber said that the town can opt to hold a special Town Meeting prior to March for an issue such as this, where residents would come and vote for the town to either hold or not hold the easement. By holding the easement, the town would be responsible for preserving the land and enforcing restrictions set forth by the land owner.
“What we were going to do was accept a letter of intent to hold the easement, and it would go to Town Meeting,” Webber said. “Some residents filed a petition for us not to do anything with it until March, though. We can hold a special Town Meeting – we discussed it [Monday] night. But no decision has been made to date.”
The board will deliberate and come to a decision regarding the proposed PILOT agreement Thursday, which calls for $11,250 per megawatt of capacity in the first year, with the amount increasing by 2.5 percent each year. In total over the 20-year span of the agreement, Antrim Wind would pay $8.621 million by the time the PILOT expires, assuming the development includes 10 turbines. The proposed nameplate capacity of the wind farm is 30 megawatts.
The first PILOT agreement between the town and Antrim Wind was voided on May 20 by the Hillsborough County Superior Court North after Antrim officials were ruled to have met illegally with the wind developer.
Town Administrator Galen Stearns said in a phone interview Tuesday that the state’s Site Evaluation Committee will meet July 10 to decide whether to rehear or reconsider its decision. The SEC originally voted not to go ahead with the wind project in February due to negative visual impacts the turbines would have on the town’s aesthetics.
Webber said if the SEC sticks with its decision not to construct the wind farm, the conservation easement discussion becomes a moot point.
The Monday night public hearings were more tame in comparison to past meetings held in the Antrim Town Hall over similar subjects. Residents more frequently asked the board questions regarding the new PILOT rather than suggesting to bail completely on the idea.
Jean White wanted to know what negatives the board has come across when dealing with the new PILOT agreement.
“Not a lot of negatives really stand out to me,” Select Board member Mike Genest said Monday night.
Webber echoed Genest’s sentiments, saying that the board believes the PILOT is the best way to go for the town. The other option is an ad valorem tax, which means Antrim Wind would be taxed based on the full property value of the land the wind farm would occupy.
Other residents wanted to know why the 20-year agreement would work better than a five-year one, since the PILOT has to be renewed in five years.
“This is a risky proposition to go for 20 years when we don’t even know how this will shake out,” Gordon Allen said. “We should do five years and see how things go.”
Others noted that the burden of a 20-year plan on town officials can be heavy.
Two letters were read into the public meeting record before the latter of the two publics hearings Monday night was closed.
The Select Board deliberation will be Thursday at the Town Hall starting at 7 p.m., and the July 10 SEC decision whether to rehear the wind case begins at 10 a.m. in Concord. Both are open to the public.
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