Grafton may have already lost. Even before the voters cast one ballot on the Iberdrola wind project, the town is torn apart. Incivility reigns.
All it took was the prospect of this industrial wind project for community members to lose sight of the characteristics that have made Grafton a desirable home. There seems to be no middle road in industrial wind farm discussion. It quickly becomes us vs. them: flatlanders vs. woodchucks; privileged vs. workers; anti-wind vs. pro-process; pro-people vs. pro-wind.
Of course, no one fits into any one category. People from all sides of the issue have myriad views and are from all walks of life. No one can be painted with a single brush and just about everyone has valid issues to air. But no one is listening.
If you haven’t heard: The Iberdrola proposal would put 28 500-foot tall turbines on 5,000 acres owned by Meadowsend Timberlands. Eight would be built in Grafton, with about 680 full-time residents, and 20 would be built in Windham, which has a full-time population of slightly over 400. It would be the biggest wind project in the state of Vermont.
In Grafton, the arguments have devolved into one continuous petty game of one-upsmanship, where no insult and insinuation is too small to hurl and no perceived slight is too insignificant to take offense.
Select Board meetings have turned into criticism and accusation sessions.
But Grafton is hardly unique in the level of venom, hatred and distrust among once cordial neighbors. This pattern seems to follow industrial wind proposals throughout the world – from Hawaii to Canada, Scotland to New Zealand. Just Google “wind project divides community” and see what pops up from legitimate media.
While the project has been in the works for at least four years, who really knows when the town began to see its fabric being shredded and by whom. Yet over the past two years, as Iberdrola has grown more impatient to get its project on line, the level of invective has risen: lies have been told, insults and slurs have been thrown and threats have been made. And from what I have observed, no one is left unscathed and no group is blameless.
Iberdrola seems happy to add fuel to the fire, as evidenced in spokesman Art Sasse’s recent response to the Windham Select Board’s decision to ask it to vacate its plans. He sounded more like a self-righteous crusader than a businessman who wanted to ensure that his company was doing everything it could to come into a community without causing harm. He failed to even acknowledge that the Windham Town Plan prohibits industrial wind. But then again, the financial stakes are high for his company. Divide and conquer and all that. Like most large corporations, it cares about one thing, and that is the bottom line.
The current divisions in Grafton have made it virtually impossible to get anything done on the Town Plan, on hiring a lawyer, on forming an exploratory committee, all of which could help Grafton navigate these dangerous waters that could actually lead to clarity.
It’s time for members of the Select Board to put aside their personal feelings, the hurt, the bitterness and the anger and act like leaders who are working together to represent the entire town.
Maybe, just maybe, if you are willing to try to hammer out solutions and come to compromises, the rest of the town will follow. Otherwise, whether the project is built or whether it isn’t, Grafton will have indeed lost.
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