The owner of Seneca Mountain is vowing to build a wind project on the Northeast Kingdom ridgeline over the objections of area property owners who rejected a proposal to build 20 industrial turbines.
Property owners in the towns that make up the Unified Towns and Gores of the sparsely populated section of Essex County had complained that building wind turbines on a mountain overlooking the community of Island Pond would spoil the character of the area without providing environmental benefits. On Jan. 13, they defeated a nonbinding vote on whether to allow the turbines.
It’s the latest in a series of bitter fights across Vermont in recent years as the state grapples with competing demands of producing clean renewable energy and fears that wind power poses environmental risks and damages the state’s pristine beauty.
After the vote, businessman and logger Daniel Ouimette, of Colebrook, N.H., told the local snowmobile club that he was closing 16 miles of trail during the heart of the winter season. He also said he planned to post no-trespassing signs on his 9,000 acres, locking out hunters and other sportsmen who have had free access to the land he owns between state Routes 114 and 105.
“I am a firm believer in property rights,” said Ouimette, who complained of harassment and attempted vandalism after talk of the proposal began in the summer of 2012. “I say I don’t want anybody on my property that’s an opponent of mine, riding across my property with their snow machine and finding fault with what I do. I’ve had enough of this.
“There are going to be some wind towers on this mountain one of these days,” he said. “I am not going to give up.”
Pam Arborio, a member of Save our Senecas, a group that opposes the Seneca Wind proposal, said Ouimette had previously agreed not to close his property if the vote went against him.
“Once he decided to make this a commercial venture, once this is a now an industrial project, he no longer is a good-old-boy neighbor. He has to follow guidelines,” said Arborio, who described her group as pro-environment, not anti-wind.
Eolian Renewable Energy, of Portsmouth, N.H., has been working with Ouimette on the wind project that would go atop the ridgeline in the town of Ferdinand. Seneca Wind Project Manager John Soininen said his company was evaluating what to do after the vote and trying to figure out how to meet a state mandate to increase the amount of renewable energy by mid-century.
“Unfortunately, there’s a pretty significant disconnect in Vermont right now. There’s the mandate to get to 90 percent renewables by 2050, but there isn’t any serious planning to that end,” Soininen said. “We’ve got a lot of people saying, ‘No, no, no.’ I don’t hear anybody saying, ‘This is what we should be doing.’”
Ferdinand has no town government of its own. It’s administered by a legal entity known as the Unified Towns and Gores Board of Governors, which governs Averill, Avery’s Gore, Ferdinand, Lewis, Warner’s Grant and Warren’s Gore. They have a combined population of 51 with 39 registered voters, but there are more than 450 property owners, including timber companies and people who own seasonal properties often used for hunting.
So last fall, Eolian officials agreed to poll by mail the landowners in the area. Most live outside the area, including a handful in Canada. Fewer than 300 property owners sent in ballots; when the votes were counted, 171 were against the Seneca Wind project with 107 in favor.
Ouimette said after the vote that the wind project wasn’t about the money because he could make more by selling his property.
“I love this land. I’ve worked very hard to keep it,” said Ouimette, who has owned the land for more than 10 years.
Vermont has a long history of free access to wilderness land, even that which is privately owned.
Bob Dexter, the president of the Brighton Snowmobile Club that lost 16 miles of trail because of Ouimette’s decision, said it was a blow to the club, which has about 1,300 members, but other trails in the area could be used instead.
Arborio said the decision to close the land could backfire.
“If you’re trying to endear yourself with people, if the project is at all going to move forward, this is certainly not the way to do it,” she said. “You’re actually making more enemies than friends.”
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