After a long discussion, punctuated by comments from first- and second-homeowners alike urging that the Grafton Select Board act, the board on Monday night approved going forward with a nonbinding poll to find out how all town residents and taxpayers view the proposed Iberdrola industrial wind project as well as what they still need to know.
That wind project would plant eight 500-foot turbines in Grafton and 20 in Windham, on 5,000 acres off Route 121 owned by Meadowsend Timberlands of New Hampshire.
Second-homeowner Pieter van der Made, who in July sent a letter to Iberdrola on behalf of 108 homeowners chastising the company for attempting to set the terms of a town-wide vote on the project, told the board on Monday, “We believe the impact of the wind project in the town of Grafton to be enormous. We respectfully ask the town to allow us to have a say.” You can read the July letter to Iberdrola here.
Board member John Turner has been asked to figure out how such a poll would be conducted. He suggested doing it sooner rather than later, although it would be “carefully planned, administered and monitored.” The data would be separated according to residents and second-homeowners, and all information would be made public.
The decision to conduct the poll has been long in coming, as the town debated the propriety of allowing second-homeowners to actually vote and, if not, whether to find a way to allow their voices to be heard in an inclusive way.
A very cautious Ron Pilette, chairman of the Select Board, said he also wanted to make sure that conducting the poll didn’t conflict with Article 4, which passed in March 2013 by town voters. It states that “the Town of Grafton vote on any issue regarding commercial wind energy production facility(ies) project or the regulation of such by Australian ballot.”
Board member Al Sands suggested that it would be prudent to have a lawyer look at the many issues prior to any poll. “To take a poll beforehand … timing is important. I still feel we have legal work that we have to be doing and that we are dragging our feet on.”
While resident Kent Armstrong questioned the legality of the poll, Turner, “I think it would be really good for people to be able to say” whether they are for, against or undecided on the issue.
Liisa Kissel emphasized that the poll was nonbinding and wasn’t subject to any law. “This has been done before in several other towns in Vermont. There is plenty of precedent for that,” she said.
In the end, the board voted 4 to 1, with Sands voting in the negative, to conduct the poll, with the caveat that if the town attorney suggested that it might be problematic, the board would revisit the decision. Even so, as Pilette consults with Town Attorney Robin Stern, Turner will begin fashioning the poll.
RELATED: Hydrology forum; answers from Iberdrola; attorneys’ back and forth; Town Plan
The board also voted unanimously to hold a forum on hydrological issues posed by the large scale wind project with experts from around the state.
Pilette, clearly unhappy with the pace that the board is receiving answers from Iberdrola to questions it has been sending, suggested re-sending questions once more. Sands suggested inviting Iberdrola to a meeting to get the answers, which both Pilette and board member Cynthia Gibbs thought was a good idea. In the end, the board decided to not only resend the questions, but to, upon receipt and reading of them, invite company representatives to an open meeting.
The board delayed reading of a letter from attorney Merrill Bent, retained by Sam Battaglino, and a reply to that from Town Attorney Robin Stern concerning Stern’s interpretation of the Town’s Code of Conduct for public officials. Board member Sands objected to the readings at this time since he is the subject of a code of conduct complaint by Battaglino among others, and that the Stern letter addressed a number of issues that the board should consider. He also asked that the initial request to Bent be included in any reading, since he believed that may have impacted the answer the Bent gave. Battaglino replied that his request to Bent was by email. The board agreed to delay the readings. You can read the Bent letter here. And you can read the Stern reply here
The Grafton Planning Commission, in response to a Select Board request, told the board that it will “make every effort to provide a draft of the Town Plan at the September 6, 2016 Select Board meeting, with the understanding that it is only a draft of the Official Plan and if the draft is not completed to our satisfaction by that date, we will present the draft at the September 19th meeting.” Delays of more than a year and a half in bringing forth a complete draft Town Plan – with energy and Village Center sections – have been a bone of contention between the board and commission, with the commission laying the some of the problems at the feet of the board. An energy section would establish Grafton’s vision for use of renewables while the Village Center section would help in seeking Village Center Designation from the state that could offer a number of tax credits for building improvements and higher priority in applying for certain grants.