Overflow crowds recently have made it necessary to move the Windham Select Board meeting from the town office to the Windham Meeting House and Tuesday was no exception as the board waded into questions of who should vote on a proposed wind project and how those votes should be counted.
Most of the meeting was taken up by items relating to the proposal by Iberdrola Renewables (now renamed Avangrid Renewables) to install 28, 500-foot wind turbines in the Stiles Brook tract in Windham and Grafton. Stiles Brook is owned by New Hampshire based Meadowsend Timberlands Inc.
The proposed commercial wind project has caused sharp divisions within both communities. Iberdrola has proposed that the Town of Windham vote on accepting or rejecting its project but has limited wanted those who can cast a ballot to registered voters in Windham, excluding second homeowners from participation in a binding vote. Iberdrola has publicly stated that if 50 percent plus 1 vote were against the project it would not proceed. The Town of Windham has scheduled that vote to coincide with the presidential election, Tuesday, Nov. 8.
However, second homeowners will still get a chance to air their views. On Tuesday night, Windham Select Board chair Frank Seawright read a letter from Roy Giarrusso, a Windham second homeowner, announcing that second homeowners will be able to state their preference concerning the wind project through nonbinding, mail-in ballots, which have been sent to all second homeowners on the town’s Grand List and are to be returned by Oct. 7, 2016.
In a recent statement, Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman said that having elected officials in Windham participate in counting the ballots raised questions about verification accuracy. Windham resident Michael Simonds questioned why Windham officials were taking a part in the process. Seawright responded that the process would be the same used in counting absentee ballots. Nancy Tipps from Friends of Windham, a group opposed to the wind installation, said from the floor that the process was designed for transparency.
Seawright explained that after the Oct. 7 deadline, two people from Windham, one in favor of the project and one against, will pick up the ballots from the Post Office, seal them in a bag and place them in the town vault. At a warned Select Board meeting, open to the public, the ballots will be opened and counted following standard procedures.
As part of the agenda, Select Board member Maureen Bell read a statement questioning the actions of a pro-installation group in secretly negotiating with Iberdrola representatives when a majority of the three-member board had voted not to negotiate when the project was still a proposal. Town attorney Bob Fisher has stated that it was his legal opinion that no group has any standing to negotiate for the town except one authorized by the Select Board.
On July 31, Fisher wrote: “Any group of citizens can unite and form a group to advocate or oppose a certain project. That is the group’s right. However, such a group advocating for the wind turbines has no authority to negotiate on the Town’s behalf, as that would be usurping the powers of the SB. Their ability to raise funds and pay for an attorney is the group’s business. For Iberdrola to pay for the group’s attorney shows the inherent bias and conflict of interest in Iberdrola.”
In other business, the board heard a presentation from Philip McDuffie, a retired engineer living in Windham, on the subject of wind turbine noise. The board also noted that it had received a number of letters against the proposed wind project and in support of the board’s action in refusing to negotiate with Iberdrola.
The board also opened sealed bids to repair a bridge on Burbee Pond Road. The bids will be analyzed and a decision on which one to accept will be made in the near future.
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