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Windham to hold Nov. vote on wind project

WINDHAM – The town will vote in November on whether to endorse what would be the state’s largest wind turbine facility.

Frank Seawright, chairman of the Windham Select Board, said Tuesday the wording of the ballot article was still being finalized, but would be sent to the secretary of state’s office today.

“I want to take the ‘wind’ out of Windham,” said Seawright, who has made no bones about his opposition to the Iberdrola Renewables project, which would place 20 wind turbines on a Windham ridgeline. A total of 28 turbines would generate 90 megawatts of electricity.

Seawright said Windham voters, in a special town meeting last week, agreed to hold the vote by Australian ballot.

Meanwhile, in Grafton, the other town involved in the Stiles Brook Forest project proposed by Iberdrola Renewables, there is no date or agreement to have a townwide vote, according to Ron Pilette, chairman of the Grafton Select Board.

Pilette said while Iberdrola has said it would abide by townwide votes in both towns, there are currently no plans in Grafton for such a vote.

Grafton is making plans for a poll, however, that will ask questions about the wind project from registered voters as well as nonresident property owners.

Iberdrola wants to build 28 turbines on 5,000 acres owned by Meadowsend Timberlands, a family-owned timber company based in New London, New Hampshire. Under current plans, 20 of the turbines would be built in Windham, and eight in Grafton.

Many of the Windham turbines would be highly visible along main roads in town.

The Meadowsend land is crossed by a high-voltage transmission line owned by VELCO, the state’s transmission company owned by local utilities. Seawright said he believed Iberdrola would ultimately have to move about seven turbines currently proposed for Windham because of potential ice damage to the transmission lines from ice coming off the turning turbine blades.

Windham officials have refused to negotiate with Iberdrola, on the advice of the town’s attorney, Robert Fisher of Brattleboro, according to Seawright. To enter into negotiations would send the message that the town has endorsed the project, he said.

He said he expected Iberdrola to make a last-minute proposal directly to Windham residents just before the Nov. 8 vote.

Pilette said Grafton won’t send out its poll, which Iberdrola has said doesn’t meet its criteria for a townwide vote, until after the planned forum on the economic benefits of the Iberdrola project.

Pilette said Grafton was also in the process of organizing a forum on the hydrology impacts from the project. Grafton has had three major flood events in the past 20 years, and drainage from the Stiles Brook Project dumps into the Saxtons River, which goes through the village of Grafton.

Pilette said the Select Board on Monday established three study committees looking into economic, environmental and health ramifications of the wind turbines. Those three committees are expected to report back to the town in several weeks.