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Swanton Wind files application to build 7-turbine project near St. Albans; Developers offer buyouts of nearby homes at post-construction valuation

Proponents of Swanton Wind, a new, commercial-scale energy project, filed documents Thursday with the Vermont Public Service Board seeking a permit to build.

Ashley and Travis Belisle, the principal developers, discussed their project at a news conference held near the site. They said they hope to build “up to” seven turbines behind their home on a low-elevation hillside they own off Rt. 105 just outside St. Albans.

The area already has a network of logging roads and maple syrup taps, and large turbines would simply augment the working landscape, the Belisles said, while at the same time fulfilling Vermont’s goal of building much more renewable energy.

If approved, Swanton Wind would be Vermont’s sixth industrial-scale wind project. It would also be closer to existing neighborhoods than any of the others.

Compared to other Vermont turbine projects, the Swanton Wind hillside requires “much less need to do things like blasting on this site. We also avoided wetlands entirely,” said Anthony Iarrapino, a project consultant.

But it’s clear the Belisles will have a fight on their hands.

For more than a year, the Swanton Wind project has generated intense opposition among some residents in surrounding towns.

Last November, when Swanton voters held an advisory referendum, 82 percent opposed the project.

“We know wind projects can be good neighbors. We’re excited to have wind power in our backyard,” Ashley Belisle said Thursday. “So in response to concern from some neighbors Swanton Wind is taking the unprecedented step of proposing a post-construction buyout option for neighbors living within 3,000 feet of a wind turbine.”

The Belisles said they are confident the roughly 20 homes that fall within that range will not lose value, and if homeowners want the buyout they’ll be able to resell the properties quickly.

Rocky Ridge neighborhood residents interviewed Thursday scoffed at the buyout offer, noting a decline in value caused by the turbine development would not compensated. Nor do they have any interest in moving.

“This press conference proves how little the Belisles care about community involvement,” said resident Sally Collopy. “The buyout is an admission that turbines are harmful to people. And people are unable to live with them.”

Some Franklin County GOP leaders said the deck is stacked in developers’ favor when the wind project is considered by state energy regulators in the current system.

“I worry about the process,” said state Sen. Dustin Degree. “I worry that regardless of the number who show up, or the types of fights we have at the PSB, we don’t have a system even under the new law that really gives local folks the type of input that I think they deserve when you’re talking about these kinds of large industrial projects.”

The Belisles said they’ve dipped into their life savings to fund the project so far and will need financial partners to proceed to construction, if they win a permit from the PSB.

That process could take a year or more.