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Legal fund will back Alexandria in wind farm case

ALEXANDRIA – Town officials have been told that if they decide to reject a proposed meteorological tower for a Portuguese wind-power developer, a public interest law firm has their back.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit, public interest law firm, provides free legal services “to communities facing threats to their local environment, local agriculture, the local economy, and quality of life,” according to the fund’s mission statement.

“Our mission is to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature,” said the fund’s Gail Darrell. “We can’t provide our support unless it is needed, so we have offered our services to Alexandria if they are needed with their new rights-based ordinance.”

Residents adopted a rights-based ordinance at town voting in March, which “reads like a bill of rights,” local supporters said, asserting the town’s rights of decision on issues and self-determination on new projects. RBOs are becoming more common in New Hampshire towns, though RBOs have not been challenged yet in New Hampshire courtrooms.

The fund has assisted more than 110 municipalities in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Maine, and Virginia, helping towns address unwanted activities such as corporate water withdrawals, long-wall coal mining, factory farming, the land application of sewage sludge, and uranium mining.

The fund’s help may be needed in Alexandria, said Michelle Watson, a member of Citizens of Alexandria Rights Effort, or CARE, which sponsored a warrant article calling for an RBO for town elections in March. Voters approved the RBO by a 3-to-1 margin, but only one selectman, Michael Broome, supported it.

“One issue that has been consistently brought up at selectmen’s meetings is concern that it would cost Alexandria significant legal fees to defend the RBO if it were ever to be challenged,” Watson said. “The fund provides the needed legal support.”

The establishment of the RBO was in response to proposed wind-energy projects in the area that are, at present, licensed by the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, leaving local communities with little input into the projects’ outcome.

RBO backers want a say in the decision to grant a permit for a meteorological tower to EDP Renewables of Portugal, which has proposed the $140 million, 60-megawatt, 15-25 turbine Spruce Ridge wind-power project in this town, Groton and Hebron.

EDP officials came to the selectmen’s meeting last week asking for an 80-meter meteorological tower to test the wind levels in town for the project. But at the meeting, Broome said he would not sign a permit for the company’s requested tower because the town has an RBO in place.

The other board members have not yet announced their decision on the permit.

“If the selectmen do vote to deny the permit based on the RBO, we will be there with pro-bono legal support for the town if it wants it,” Darrell said.

The selectmen meet again July 1.