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Grafton wind opponents set up storefront

GRAFTON—The small, red 130-year-old building at 205 Main St. has served as the town post office, a real-estate office, and as a home for Grafton Historical Society.

Sitting inside the front room, Liisa Kissel declares, “now, it has a new purpose.”

Kissel’s Grafton Woodlands Group Inc. has set up shop with an “environmental community resource and knowledge center” that will provide a home base for the group’s fight against a possible wind-turbine project in the towns of Windham and Grafton.

The center held its first open house on Sept. 25. While Kissel is well-known as an anti-wind activist in this community, she’s hoping that the new brick-and-mortar presence will expand her organization’s reach.

“We’ve done outreach and we’ve written about it and spoken about it,” Kissel said. “But now we can do a lot more.”

The Grafton Woodlands Group office is situated just up the street from an office previously established by Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd., the New Hampshire company that owns the land that may host Windham County’s first commercial wind turbines. Meadowsend has held community meetings and has established a website, www.stilesbrookforest.com, in an attempt to reach residents with its own point of view.

It’s been three years since turbine developer Iberdrola Renewables, in conjunction with Meadowsend, announced a plan to explore wind resources at Stiles Brook Forest. The company in December 2012 received state Public Service Board permission to erect three meteorological-testing towers on the site – two in Windham and one in Grafton.

Those towers began functioning in April 2013, but they apparently have not yet yielded enough hard data to support moving forward with turbine development. Last month, the Public Service Board granted Iberdrola an additional two years to study the site.

Though Iberdrola has not said how many turbines may be built at Stiles Brook or where exactly they might go, the proposal has spurred some backlash. Officials from the town of Windham consistently have opposed the project, citing provisions in their town plan and concerns about the state’s energy-permitting process.

Kissel – initially acting under the name Friends of Grafton’s Heritage – has led opposition in her town. Grafton Woodlands Group, which is the successor to the Friends organization, was incorporated as a Vermont nonprofit in 2014, and Kissel serves as a director.

While wind-turbine advocates cite the potential for producing renewable, “green” electricity without the impacts of conventional power plants, Kissel said she doesn’t believe commercial-scale wind is a viable or advisable venture in Vermont. And she is dead-set against the Stiles Brook project, citing environmental and aesthetic reasons.

“If it were to happen, it would alter Grafton in signifiant ways permanently,” Kissel said. “It would remove the assets that the town has – its natural, peaceful, un-industrialized setting – and it would interfere with its historic character.”

She added that, “we are really trying to educate people who have not had a chance to do their own research.”

To that end, the center at 205 Main St. is supposed to offer “a library of materials and resources” during regular hours planned for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays. Elizabeth Cooper is the facility’s program manager, and she’s also working to schedule movie nights and start a speaker series.

While Grafton Woodlands Group has its roots in opposition to the Stiles Brook project, members say they want to address a variety of topics in upcoming meetings and presentations. “I’ve been trying to line up people who can talk about natural resources in the area,” Cooper said.

Of course, many of the center’s materials are unapologetically anti-turbine. Cooper, a Rutland-area resident who said she has a background in forestry, land-use planning and environmental studies, has done outreach work for Vermonters for a Clean Environment and said she became active in the movement after a wind project was proposed near her home.

“That project did not happen, but, in the two years that it was in the planning stages, I saw in my town that there was a lot of conflict and a lot of confusion,” Cooper said.

“We all know that we have to move toward renewable energy,” she added. “But it’s my perspective that there are appropriate and less-detrimental ways to go about it.”

In Grafton, Cooper is concerned that a large-scale turbine project could increase the risk of flooding due to tree removal and the construction of new impervious surfaces on the ridge. She also worries about wildlife impacts.

In keeping with the center’s education theme, Cooper said many in the community are hoping for more information soon on the future of Stiles Brook.

“It’s been hard for people who have known about this for three years now to not have any answers,” she said.

Representatives from Meadowsend and Iberdrola see things much differently.

At the Stiles Brook website, residents “can review the timeline for the project, the list of all the studies that need to be completed before moving forward, and learn more about the Stiles Brook Forest,” said Paul Copleman, an Iberdrola spokesman.

Copleman, in an email response to questions about Grafton Woodlands Group’s contentions, said Iberdrola and Meadowsend administrators have worked hard to keep the local community involved. And he again urged patience.

“We’re very much still in an early data-gathering phase of a long process,” Copleman said. “We’ll continue to share what we learn as we learn it, as we’ve been doing for some time in the community. We have planned meetings for the end of October to once again update the community – just the latest in a series of meetings we’ve held, from town-wide meetings, to MET tower tours, to wind farm tours, to small group meetings – in an effort to share information and answer questions.”