WINDHAM – The developer proposing the Stiles Brook Wind Project is reaffirming a commitment to stop work if a majority of voters in Windham and Grafton oppose the initiative in a vote later this year.
But Iberdrola Renewables, in a mailer sent to residents this week, also announced that such a vote cannot include part-time, nonresident property owners in either town.
“Iberdrola Renewables has pledged to honor the outcome of a vote by the registered voters from each host community,” the mailer says. “Although not legally required, we have proposed this vote in order for full-time residents to have the ability to cast a vote on the value of the project to their towns.”
Despite that pronouncement, second-home owners are continuing to lobby for more of a voice in the Stiles Brook debate. In fact, the anti-turbine group Friends of Windham is organizing a formal survey of such property owners, member Nancy Tips said Thursday.
“The second-home owners of Windham intend to carefully conduct a referendum on this proposal in the fall,” Tips said. “All Windham nonresident property owners will receive a ballot in the mail.”
If built as currently designed, the 28-turbine, 96.6 megawatt Stiles Brook Wind Project would be Vermont’s largest and most powerful wind energy site. Iberdrola has proposed the development in the 5,000-acre Stiles Brook Forest, owned by New Hampshire-based Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd.
Proponents have pitched the project as a source of green power as well as a land conservation measure and a major source of revenue for both towns. Opponents have organized around concerns about the potential impacts on the environment, property values and health.
Iberdrola in April presented preliminary studies showing relatively little noise and visual impacts from the proposed turbines. But those studies were met with skepticism by some who claim the company is ignoring local concerns.
The developer needs a state certificate of public good to build the project, and that permit process does not require explicit permission from the towns. But Iberdrola says its recent mailer is meant to “confirm our commitment directly to the registered voters of each community.”
“The company agrees to be bound by a majority (greater than 50 percent) vote of registered voters in each community in November of 2016, which would include those legal residents who are otherwise entitled by law to vote in regular municipal elections but would not include nonresidents, who do not vote on all other town matters,” Iberdrola administrators wrote.
“If a majority of the voters support the proposed project, we will proceed with the rigorous and transparent state Public Service Board permitting process for the project,” the flier says.
Asked about the impetus for the mailer, Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman cited “a desire on our part to reinforce the message due to some apparent confusion.”
There has been ongoing debate about including the two towns’ many second-home owners in a Stiles Brook vote, though Vermont law does not permit nonresidents to participate in any legally binding balloting.
In Grafton, meeting minutes show that nonresident voting was again discussed – but not acted upon – at a May Selectboard meeting.
There’s no legal prohibition against unofficial polls and surveys of nonresident property owners. Tips said Windham’s survey will be used to inform the “town of Windham and the state of Vermont leadership” of where such taxpayers stand on Stiles Brook.
She believes she knows what the survey’s outcome will be.
“Windham second-home owners are organized in their opposition to the Stiles Brook wind turbine proposal,” Tips said. “While they are not entitled by law to vote in regular municipal elections, they are entitled to their very strong position that this proposal is wrong for the Stiles Brook tract.”
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