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Non-resident property owners want a say in the Iberdrola wind project

WINDHAM >> Non-resident property owners are concerned their voices won’t be heard by the company proposing a wind power project in Grafton and Windham, so they are undertaking a non-binding ballot

“As you are aware, both Iberdrola and Meadowsend have repeatedly committed to the Town of Windham, early and in writing on numerous occasions, that there will be no Stiles Brook industrial wind turbine project if 50 percent and 1 of ballots cast in Windham vote that they don’t want industrial wind turbines on the Stiles Brook ridgeline,” wrote Roy P. Giarrusso, a non-resident property owner from Quincy, Mass., in a letter to the Windham Select Board. “Iberdrola and Meadowsend have intentionally excluded non-resident owners from this vote.”

As part of the Nov. 8 general election, registered voters in Grafton and Windham will be asked whether they approve of the project.

“This is an Iberdrola sponsored and designed vote; it is not part of the municipal process, so Iberdrola can structure its voting process the way it wants to, including, as it has, to exclude non-resident property owners from having a vote,” wrote Giarrusso, in a letter that will accompany the ballot.

Giarrusso noted that non-resident property owners are taxpayers and are interested parties whose voices should be heard. “The proposed project will impact our lives and our properties,” he wrote. “The Town and all other interested parties should have the benefit of knowing where we stand on this project.”

As a result, the Friends of Windham, a group that formed in opposition to the wind project, has agreed to conduct a non-binding referendum of all non-resident property owners in Windham.

“Friends of Windham supports the decision by Windham’s second-home owners to cast ballots in October on the merits of the wind-turbine installation proposed for our town,” said Nancy Tips, a member of the Friends, a group of Windham community members, both residents and second-home owners who are committed “to the democratic principle that informed citizens make the best decisions about the things that affect our lives. We believe that it is the right of everyone who will be affected by the project to study it and vote on it. We find it both strange and cruel that Iberdrola ignores second-home owners’ rights, by specifically excluding these property owners from the formal town-wide referendum scheme that they have demanded.”

Giarrusso told the Reformer Thursday there can’t be any valid reason for excluding non-residents from their poll unless it’s their strategy to keep their voices out of the decision making process.

“Iberdrola and Meadowsend’s purported reason for the Nov. 8 ballot is to gauge the public sentiment and whether the public wants an industrial wind project in their backyard. They say if the vote goes against them, they are going to pack their bags and go home. They designed the question, and designed it with the intent to exclude us from having a voice. Our intent is to make sure all parties have a voice, at least in the public arena, and make sure the town’s leaders know exactly how a huge bloc feels about the project.”

However, under Vermont law, non-residents are not allowed to vote in local or state-wide votes, notes Paul Copleman, communications manager for Avangrid Renewables, Iberdrola’s U.S. affiliate.

“Out of respect for the Vermont residents who are legally allowed to vote in Grafton or Windham, we will abide by that practice,” Copleman said in a statement. “If you’re going to start allowing people, who have chosen to live and registered to vote in other states, to also vote in Vermont, where do you draw the line about who gets to vote, and on what topics?

“Additionally, with regard to Windham, having an elected town official validate an anti-wind group’s informal poll raises serious questions about verification accuracy, given their previously stated public opposition, and seems to undermine the interests of the registered voters of Windham,” Copleman said.

Giarrusso said that while he hasn’t spoken with every non-resident property owner in Windham, the vast majority are opposed to the wind project. And while he hasn’t run into local sentiment that is opposed to non-residents having a voice, he is sure it is out there somewhere. “But folks really need to think carefully. Whatever money Iberdrola is offering on an annual basis is money based on Iberdrola’s estimates. That money is going to get swallowed up by decreases in property values due to the project.”

Iberdrola Renewables is proposing to develop a 28-turbine industrial wind project to be located on the ridgelines of the Stiles Brook Forest, owned by Meadowsend Timberlands, Ltd. Twenty of these 500-foot turbines are proposed to be located in Windham and eight sited in Grafton.

According to Giarrusso, non-resident property owners in Windham pay more than 60 percent of Windham’s taxes, and “should be entitled to have a voice in this process, one way or the other.”

The ballots are to be completed and returned directly to the Friends of Windham by Oct. 7, and it is expected the Windham Select Board will then warn a special meeting for the purpose of opening and counting the ballots. The ballot will be mailed to all non-resident property owners on the Town of Windham grand list.

Lynn Barrett, a member of the Grafton Woodlands Group, which also opposes the wind project, said second-homeowners, both in Windham and Grafton, need to be heard.

“How can we let a foreign conglomerate dictate to us about who is allowed to vote and how we should vote on a project that would represent the most far-reaching, permanent change for the region in modern times? Grafton residents and second-home owners are together dedicated to preserving Grafton’s valuable natural environment.”