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Battling with signs, over the Antrim Wind petition

If you drive through Antrim today you can’t help but see them: yellow/blue signs, urging “NO”; green/white signs urging “YES.” They are often side-by-side lining the highways and downtown streets.

As most Antrim voters know only too well, those signs are about changing the town’s zoning to add rules written by a wind energy developer. For the last two months, this question has been debated over cups of coffee, town-wide mailings, letters to the editor, and now in a duel of lawn signs perched in snow banks.

If there is an Antrim voter who hasn’t read the 11-page ordinance by now, they should before Tuesday. It’s available at Town Hall or online at www.antrimnh.org. And when you read the 11-page ordinance, keep these questions in mind: What is Antrim getting with this ordinance? What is the town not getting?

On the “what we are getting” side: If the ordinance passes, Antrim gets a new set of rules allowing wind energy facilities to be built in two zoning districts that cover more than half the town. The height limit for turbines will be set at 500 feet. The noise standards will be higher than the limits decided by the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee. That’s pretty much is all that is new. On the “what we aren’t getting” side – well, it’s a longer list: no requirement for environmental studies; no requirement for visual impact studies; no protection for property values; little assurance decommissioning costs will be fully covered; minimal property setback requirements; no noise protection assurances for seasonal property owners. And despite the impression created by a mailing to Antrim voters urging them to “support clean energy in Antrim,” this ordinance won’t create a renewable source of electricity for the town’s use. Or even New Hampshire’s use. The electricity generated goes directly into New England’s power grid. Property tax break for Antrim? Job promises? Zoning ordinances don’t cover those issues. Anyway, both are already decided. Taxes: Antrim’s selectmen have already signed a 20-year tax agreement with Antrim Wind Energy. It sets a yearly payment to the town from the wind developer instead of sending a tax bill to the developer.

Some taxpayers think it’s a good deal and others don’t. But given the fact that Antrim is the second largest town in the ConVal School District (plus a state-level debate over how renewable energy facilities are assessed in cooperative school districts), that agreement might be something our town regrets later.

Job promises? The N.H. Site Evaluation Committee covered that topic in its review of Antrim Wind Energy’s application. The 10-turbine wind facility will create five permanent jobs: a project manager, three technicians, and a maintenance position. Most technicians working for New England wind facilities come from the Midwest. The management firm selected by Antrim Wind Energy is based in Iowa.

It’s time to stop this debate. When a developer writes a zoning ordinance, it’s a sign of desperation. On Tuesday, I’m sticking with the message on the yellow/blue signs. Antrim’s zoning is not for sale. I’m voting “No.”

Mary Allen served two terms as a ConVal school board representative for Antrim; 12 years on the town’s zoning board and as an alternative on the Antrim Planning Board. She has lived in town for 39 years.