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Developer’s wind petition unwise

Although Antrim Wind Energy’s proposal for a 10-turbine wind energy project on Tuttle Hill near Willard Pond was shot down a year ago by the state of New Hampshire’s Site Evaluation Committee, the company has not given up. Antrim Wind Energy officials have written an ordinance that would revise the town’s zoning to allow commercial wind farms in the Rural Conservation District and the Highway Business District. And 42 residents of the town have signed a petition supporting the proposed ordinance, so it will appear on the ballot on March 11.

Antrim Wind Energy Project Manager John Soininen told the Ledger-Transcript recently that the ordinance would provide “reasonable regulations” that would reduce the visual impact of the wind farm and limit noise and the height of turbines. That might address the objections of the Site Evaluation Committee, which rejected the first plan based on its detrimental visual impact. But the entire process by which the ordinance has come before voters has raised a new set of concerns that have become the focus of the debate.

Retaining local control over how land is used is of vital importance to towns in the Monadnock region. That’s why Planning Boards and Zoning Boards exist – so residents can be assured of a thoughtful and thorough evaluation of building proposals that will have a significant impact on a town.

Proposed changes to zoning regulations should get similar review and should really be drafted by local Planning Boards. That’s hard work, and planners working on wind-power regulations certainly need to take advantage of the expertise of companies like Antrim Wind Energy. But ordinances should be written by the boards, not by a company with a vested interest in the project.

Antrim’s Planning Board, like the town itself, is split over the proposal. Board members voted not to recommend it, but only by a 4-3 margin. Of course, one of the three in favor was Select Board Chair Gordon Webber, who serves as an ex-officio member of the Planning Board and has been a vocal supporter of the wind power project all along. And at the Planning Board’s public hearing on the petition article, the majority of those who spoke were against the ordinance. But supporters also turned out, and it’s hard to predict which way the vote will go.

We’d urge Antrim voters, regardless of how they feel about this project, to turn down the proposed amendment. Using the petition warrant article option to try to push through a developer-written plan that’s not approved by the Planning Board is not the way to go. Antrim can do better.