GRAFTON – If Iberdrola Renewables Inc. was hoping for a definitive vote from Grafton residents in November, it doesn’t look like they will get it.
The Grafton Select Board Monday night made clear that any November vote about the proposed 90-megawatt wind project will be on whether the town should negotiate with Iberdrola Renewables and not about the merits of the project.
The Grafton Select Board met Monday night for the first time since a special election last week that essentially changed the balance of power on the local board, with the majority being critics of the project. The board tackled several issues about the wind project that have been on hold since the resignation of former Chairman Gus Plummer, leaving the board in a 2-2 deadlock.
The board agreed to set up three separate study committees to tackle the issues of economics, environment and public health that the Stiles Brook Wind Project raised, and asked interested residents, including second-home owners, to send them letters of interest.
And the board also agreed to send a pointed letter to the Grafton Planning Commission, urging it to finish up its review of the town plan, in particular its chapter on energy.
The commercial wind development is proposed for a ridgeline between the towns of Windham and Grafton, with 20 of the 28 turbines in Windham. The project is strongly opposed in the town of Windham, with residents sharply divided in Grafton.
The board, with its attorney Robin Stern of Brattleboro on hand Monday night, also reorganized and elected a new chairman, Ron Pilette, to replace Plummer, who resigned in May. There were more than 55 residents at the meeting.
Last week’s election saw voters pick John Turner, the retired principal of the Grafton Elementary School, to fill the vacancy creased by Plummer’s resignation. Turner is an opponent of the wind project. He handily beat a supporter of the project.
Pilette said he was committed to giving a voice to the town’s many second-home owners in the process, although he conceded, after an explanation by Stern, that Vermont statute prohibited the participation of non-registered Vermont voters in any balloting.
Paul Copelman, a spokesman for Iberdrola, said Tuesday via email that the company had “pledged to honor the outcome of a vote by the registered voters” in both Grafton and Windham.
“If a majority of the voters support the proposed project, we will proceed with the lengthy Public Service Board permitting process for the project,” he wrote in an email.
“A finalized set of terms for an agreement in advance of the Nov. 8 vote would allow residents to make a well-informed choice and provide clarity for all parties on exactly what each community is voting on,” Copelman added.
He added that non-residents should not be included in the townwide vote.
The town has received a petition of sorts, containing the names but not signatures, of dozens of second-home owners, asking to be able to vote. The Select Board had so far taken no formal action on the request.
There was a lot of discussion about charges by one Grafton resident, an opponent of the wind project, that Select Board member Allan Sands had violated the board’s code of conduct when he met privately with Iberdrola. At the time Sands was the acting chairman of the board.
An opinion by Stern, circulated at the meeting, stated that Sands’ action did not violate the code, and Sands himself read a rebuttal to criticism by resident David Acker.
Adding fuel to the fire was a second legal opinion solicited by Sam Battaglino, a former board member, which stated that Sands’ actions did violate the town’s adopted code of conduct. That opinion came from attorney Merrill Bent, of the Manchester Center law firm of Woolmington, Campbell, Bernal & Bent.
The board agreed to give Stern time to respond to the Bent opinion.
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