SWANTON – Proposed refinements to Swanton’s unfinished municipal plan are renewing the debate over local industrial wind.
Attorney Anthony Iarrapino filed a public records request on July 6, in light of possible amendments to the town and village plan presented to the Planning Commission at their June 15 meeting by Republican Representative Marianna Gamache.
Iarrapino’s public records request sought “any records of or reflecting communications between Swanton Planning Commission member Sara Luneau-Swan and any member of the public including but not limited to Annette Smith, Marianna Gamache and Christine and Dustin Lang, regarding proposed revisions to the Swanton Town Plan now under consideration by the Planning Commission.”
According to the meeting minutes, Gamache said the Public Service Board (PSB)’s guidelines require the language in municipal plans to be as specific as possible regarding renewable energy. She presented additional language “refining” the municipal plan’s renewable energy guidelines toward that end.
The proposed amendments prohibit “impacts such as noise and shadow flicker” from extending to properties neighboring renewable energy projects. They discourage “the use of prime and statewide agricultural soils for renewable energy projects,” and prohibit industrialization of local ridges “that alter the existing scenic character of the ridges.”
Iarrapino said he was alarmed by new language asserting that many waterfowl will be killed by any wind turbine blades, that “heavy blasting” would be required to erect industrial wind turbines and that human development disrupts deer yards. The proposed site of the Swanton Wind Project, Rocky Ridge, contains “a rare and excellent deer yard,” according to the new language.
“We just want to know – where’s the proof ?” Iarrapino said. He took issue with Gamache’s explanation that the new language was based on “people who have had a lot of experience, who could be considered experts,” a statement she made during the Planning Commission’s meeting.
“The current proposal makes a lot of assertions, but we haven’t yet witnessed in the public portion [of the process] any attempt at expert testimony,” Iarrapino said. “If there are experts, we’d like the ability to question their assumptions and produce our own data.”
He pointed to a note in the amendment proposal document reading, “This whole bullet point should be deleted. The PSB could use this language to approve Rocky Ridge. They cherry-pick plans. Do not give this to them.”
“These people make no bones about being opponents of this project and industrial wind in general,” Iarrapino said.
Gamache told planning commission members that she had crafted the language with Justin London and Annette Smith. Smith is the executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, a non-profit pursuing “the common goals of encouraging economic development with minimal environmental impacts and preserving Vermont’s natural beauty,” according to their mission statement. Smith has been at the forefront of the Swanton Wind opposition.
“My concern is not just where the language comes from but who gets to participate in the conversation,” Iarrapino said. “Does this process affect property rights? When the rules change mid-game, you create this moving target – so it’s really important to know who’s writing the rules, and where’s the data from?”
He said that other municipalities create subcommittees with open meetings to draft ordinances. “There should be a real concern that the big elements of this are being tied together behind closed doors,” he said.
The Planning Commission unanimously voted to review the amendments during their June 15 meeting. Jim Hubbard, the chair of the Planning Commission, said the commission had not received a grant to help address renewable energy in the town plan, but that they were “aggressive” in their efforts to “do it right.”
Town Administrator David Jescavage emphasized there will be a public hearing on the municipal plan prior to its finalization. He noted that a comment from Ashley Belisle has also been taken into consideration as work on the municipal plan continues.
Planning Commission member Luneau-Swan, the subject of Iarrapino’s public records request, said that even the finalized municipal plan “will probably have to be changed,” to accord with developing renewable energy legislature like S.260. That bill, which passed during the last legislation session, was designed to increase public input in renewable energy siting. It was the subject of a controversial last-minute veto by Governor Peter Shumlin, whom Gamache told Planning Commission members “watered down” the bill before “taking out citizen’s rights.”
“This is really just an energy plan for the interim,” Luneau-Swan said.
Planning Commission member Ed Daniel, who has been in charge of reviewing these amendments with Luneau-Swan and fellow member Andy Larocque, also stressed the municipal plan is a “work in progress” that will require public comment.
“We’ve taken what was presented and said, ‘Well, let’s change this, let’s move that, what is this word here?’” Daniel said. “We want [the plan] to be fair and equal for developers and for people. Then we’ll open it up to the public and who knows, maybe there’s something we haven’t thought of.”
The revised energy component of the municipal plan will be presented at the next Planning Commission meeting, on July 20. Iarrapino plans to file a written comment on behalf of his clients prior to the meeting.
Those interested in contacting the Planning Commission can do so using the contact info published on the Town of Swanton official website, townofswantonvermont.
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