GRAFTON – A special election today in this small town could have big consequences for big wind.
Two Select Board candidates, John Turner and Don Dougall, are facing off to fill the unexpired term of former board chairman Gus Plummer, who resigned in May after receiving what he believed was an anonymous threat that made no mention of the wind project.
The only issue, according to the two candidates, is big wind – the industrial wind project proposed for a ridgeline between Grafton and Windham, a 5,000-acre tract owned by Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd.
Iberdrola Renewables wants to build the biggest commercial wind facility in the state, a 28-turbine, 90-megawatt project.
Since Plummer’s resignation, the Grafton Select Board has been deadlocked and whoever is elected is expected to form a new majority on the board.
The board is expected to make several key decisions on the Iberdrola Renewables project before the expected townwide vote in November.
Turner, 66, who retired last year after three years as principal of the Grafton Village School, is against the project. Turner, who moved to town in 2012, said he initially supported the project but changed his mind.
But he said he is even more concerned about how the wind project has split the town.
“All the research shows that the town becomes very divided,” he said. “I don’t want us to end up fighting each other.”
Turner said the pattern has been repeated in every Vermont town that has become the focus of a large wind project. He said the in-town fighting may work to the energy company’s benefit.
“The focus is off them,” he said.
Turner said he would favor the town conducting a poll as soon as possible to gauge the public opinion on the wind project, to help guide the Select Board in any decisions – including whether to hire an attorney and whether to negotiate with Iberdrola, as it has offered to do.
Dougall said he supports the wind project until he hears something to change his mind.
Dougall, 71, is retired from a career in management, and he’s lived in Vermont since 1999, and full time in Grafton since 2007, in addition to 2003-04.
“The fifth seat controls what happens next,” he said.
Dougall has been active in the Grafton community since moving there, serving on the library board, the Grafton Music Festival and the Grafton Improvement Association.
“I have some concerns, the same concerns that everybody does,” said Dougall, adding that the town should hire an attorney and start negotiating with Iberdrola before the public vote.
After the vote, he said, the town loses leverage with the energy company.
“I want to know what kind of cash they can come up with,” Dougall said.
He said Iberdrola has a history of making a payment to its host towns, in addition to paying property taxes.
While the proposed three or four turbines of the 14 that would be located in Grafton would generate some tax revenue, Iberdrola can be expected to make a “gift” to the town, Dougall said.
The two men faced off during a candidates’ forum last Thursday in Grafton, and Dougall said it was clear that opponents to the wind project came with prepared questions – many of them critical of him and his stands.
He said the opposition to the wind project, organized by the Grafton Woodlands Group, is “really well organized and really well funded.”
Dougall and Turner both said the controversy over the wind project has meant other issues in town have been neglected.
Dougall said he hoped for an enormous turnout today, so that the town’s leaders get a strong sense of what townspeople want.
“The town needs to hear from as many voters as possible,” he said.
Town Clerk Kimberly Record said the polls at the Grafton Town Hall are open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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