A cold wind blew through the Grafton Select Board meeting Monday night, generating electricity between two elected officials: the Select Board chair and the town Treasurer.
Grafton Treasurer Kim Record proposed creating a subcommittee to research financial benefits and proposals to present to the Iberdrola wind energy company in the event that town voters approved the project. Iberdrola told The Telegraph in late November that it would not build in Grafton if town voters rejected the project.
But the reaction from board chair Sam Battaglino to Record’s suggestion blew some in the audience, including Record herself, away.
The good news first and then …
But this followed good news that Efficiency Vermont would be reimbursing the town $4,500 for the cost of the new town garage because of its energy efficient construction and lighting, and that construction of the new salt shed came in under earlier estimates by $24,000.
The Select Board also opened bids to demolition a home at 898 Route 121 East. The bids were: Taylor Excavating: $9,950; Jamie Gregory: $9,500; Dalton Cenate: $16,000 and Ivor Stevens: $14,900. The Select Board will hold a special meeting at 4:15 Wednesday, Dec. 9 at Town Hall, 117 Main St., to decide on the bids.
But it was the discussion about forming a subcommittee to try to find “the best financial deal for the town,” as Treasurer Record put it, that grabbed the attention of board chair Battaglino, and not in a good way.
Record said that she had begun forming a panel with the idea that if the town voted to allow Iberdrola to build eight wind towers on property in Grafton, the town would be prepared to “get the best financial deal” it possibly could. She added, “There’s not a lot of time after the vote to get the package together.”
Record said that the committee would start working in January, meeting about once a month. Besides Record, Hardy Merrill; Cynthia Gibbs, the assistant treasurer; Don Dougal of the Grafton Improvement Association; Ginger Ludeman and capital budget committee member Linda Robertson would sit on the committee. Record said she was also looking for a Select Board member to join as well, and had asked Ron Pilette, who said he was too busy. Although neither Pilette nor board member Gus Plummer were in attendance, a quorum was still formed.
But Battaglino, who kept referring to the committee as “Ron’s committee,” said, “My opinion is that we don’t need it … you don’t have the time. I’ve looked at your schedule.”
Record responded, “I felt that we should not rush through the situation without the research.” The committee, she added, was all her idea and that Pilette had nothing to do with it.
But Battaglino said that as elected officials, “I think it’s the Select Board’s charge to make these decisions. And I don’t think we have the expertise.”
Record, who is also an elected official, pointed out that most members of her committee had strong financial backgrounds and intended to do a lot of research that would include talking to other towns who have experienced the wind industry coming into their communities. She added that she intended to have an attorney vet any proposals they come up with.
She then said, “I don’t think I need the Select Board’s permission” to form a committee.
Battaglino responded that the Select Board would “welcome the information you gather.” But he added that he believed that Iberdrola had already laid its cards on the table and there was nothing else to ask for. “Iberdrola said it would be the maximum dollar amount from the generation from the eight wind towers. We’re at the top of the scale,” he said.
Iberdrola has suggested that it would give both Grafton and Windham, where 20 towers could be place, community benefits packages. They would likely consist of an annual payment to each town based on the number of turbines each hosted. Early estimates are $285,000 to Grafton and $715,000 to Windham. In an interview with The Telegraph in late November, Paul Copleman, communications manager for Iberdrola, said, “The package is open for discussion. It will be commensurate with and proportionate to other projects (in Vermont) and their sizes.”
Record then said, “This is why I am researching. The Grafton Select Board has chosen not to research this issue.”
One audience member defended Record, saying, “Kim is an elected official just like the Select Board is. Her responsibility is the financial health of the community. From this side of the table, it isn’t sounding like you are giving her respect.”
Record then agreed with Battaglino that any negotiations with Iberdrola would be up to the Select Board.
At that point, Battaglino seemed to change his mind and said, “I think the Select Board should be in charge of gathering information. No committee. … I’m proposing that Ron’s committee be dissolved.”
Board member Noralee Hall injected, “There’s nothing to dissolve. Kim wants to have a committee. That’s fine.”
Another audience member said, “It seems that whatever the Select Board wants to do for research, you should do that and Kim should do it as treasurer as well.”
Since the Select Board did not vote to create a subcommittee, should Record form it, it will be an informal, ad hoc committee that can make non-binding recommendations.
Asked on Tuesday what direction she intends to take, Record said, “I’m not 100 percent sure, but I’m pretty sure I want to move ahead with this. It’s my duty to the town as treasurer.” She added that she has spoken with three of committee members who are willing to move ahead.
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