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Iberdrola questions Windham’s ‘mail-in’ votes

WINDHAM – A spokesman for Iberdrola Renewables, which wants to build the state’s largest wind turbine facility, has questioned the integrity of a nonbinding mail-in vote of nonresidents in Windham on its Stiles Brook wind project.

Iberdrola wants to build 28 turbines on a ridgeline and plateau on the Windham and Grafton town line on 5,000 acres owned by Meadowsend Timberland Ltd. The turbines would generate about 96 megawatts of electricity.

Paul Copleman said last week Windham’s nonbinding, mail-in ballot of nonresidents was tainted because Windham elected town officials were participating in counting the mail-in ballots. The actual ballot is being sent out by Friends of Windham, who have asked the Windham Select Board to follow the procedure used in counting absentee ballots to assess the wind vote.

“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.” “It is unfortunate that the Windham Select Board chair is putting the interests of second-homeowners ahead of the Vermonters,” he added.

The Select Board will tally the votes, following absentee ballot procedures, according to Nancy Tips of Friends of Windham. Tips is the wife of Select Board Chairman Frank Seawright.

The wind project has engendered fierce opposition in both towns, which would split about $1 million a year in tax revenue from the project, all but eliminating the local property tax in Windham, and reducing Grafton’s substantially. Twenty of the turbines would be in Windham, with the balance in Grafton.

Iberdrola has pledged that unless the towns’ registered voters support the project, it will drop its plans.

But while Windham has scheduled a townwide vote on Nov. 8, during the presidential election, Grafton has been reluctant to make any commitment on a binding townwide vote.

Iberdrola questioned the legitimacy of parallel efforts in Windham and Grafton to gauge support or opposition by its large second-home community. Friends of Windham, an anti-wind group, is sending out a mail-in ballot on the wind project, asking that ballots be returned by early October.

“Under Vermont law, nonresidents are not allowed to vote in local or statewide votes. 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 via email.

“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?” he said.

The Grafton Select Board has taken a slightly different tack: It plans to send out a poll or survey to all of its non-registered voter property owners, giving them the option of yes, no and undecided. However, that poll isn’t ready to be mailed, town officials have said.