SWANTON – The developers behind the Swanton Wind Project announced Thursday morning they have finally submitted their application for a Certificate of Public Good from the Public Service Board (PSB).
Travis and Ashley Belisle, the developers, also announced the application includes a post-construction buy-out option for neighbors living within 3,000 feet of a turbine.
They estimated approximately 20 homes fall within that range.
Martha Staskus, the Vice President of Vermont Environmental Research Associates (VERA), called the buy-out option “unprecedented.” She said the option showed that the Belisles are listening to the project’s opponents.
“That’s what’s different from other wind project proposals,” she said.
Homeowners who purchased Rocky Ridge property from the Belisles were notified at the time of their purchase that the Belisles were considering building wind turbines.
The Belisles said they are confident they can quickly re-sell any homes vacated per the buy-out option. They said another home has sold since Swanton Wind issued their 45-day notice of intent to file their application about a year ago.
When asked why the filing process had taken so much longer than 45 days, Travis said, “Good things take time.”
He said the numerous environmental studies required for the project had delayed their filing, as well as public hearings and discussion in Swanton. Travis said the Swanton Wind developers had been “unfairly accused” of “fast-tracking” the project, so they slowed the application process to appease those concerned.
“There was fast-tracking only by opponents,” he said. The project may include up to seven wind turbines, clearing 35 acres of woodlands surrounding Rocky Ridge. The project’s lawyer, Anthony Iarrapino, said all but 10 of those acres would be allowed to re-grow after the construction.
The Belisles estimate they would annually contribute approximately $150,000 in payments to the Town of Swanton, should the application be approved. That figure is based on similar payments made by Vermont’s five other wind projects to their “host communities.”
A press release issued by Swanton Wind, LLC noted that those financial contributions from the project could pay for all of the town’s police or library budgets, and 99 percent of the town’s fire department and fire truck replacement budget.
The project’s turbines would generate up to 20 megawatts (mW) of zero-emission power, enough to “meet the needs” of more than 7,000 Vermonters, according to the press release.
At yesterday’s press conference, held before the ridgeline where the turbines would stand, Iarrapino reiterated that the project has been engineered to avoid all wetlands.
The press release further notes that the project meets all applicable state stormwater management standards, that a comprehensive study found no rare, threatened or endangered plant or animal species within or near the project’s limits and that sound studies indicate the project will adhere to the PSB’s recently adopted sound limits – which the press release notes are “more stringent than those recommended by the World Health Organization.”
Iarrapino said the highest exterior sound level modeled by sound studies on the proposed project site was 43 decibels (dB). The PSB’s sound standards prohibit exterior sound above 45 dB.
Iarrapino said those conducting the study couldn’t “model every resident’s interior [sound levels] at the moment,” but he assumed interior sound levels would hover around 30 dB.
Staskus pointed to a “sound level” application on her phone, which said the average sound level throughout the press conference was 55 dB, thanks to a strong wind that at one point tossed the developers’ visual aids to the dirt.
“As you can see, it’s a great spot for wind,” Ashley quipped.
The press conference including something publicly unseen since the Belisles announced the project in summer 2015: a neighbor in favor of the turbines.
“One of the things we say in the navy is semper Gumby,” Chris Maynard said. “It means ‘always flexible.’” Maynard lives along the ridgeline. The idea of several turbines stretching nearly 500-feet into the air doesn’t faze him.
“It’s change,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me. You know? You make a little sacrifice for the greater good.”
Maynard told reporters that when his family bought the nearby land in 2011, there were “two things” all Vermonters could expect – short summers and cold winters. Now, Maynard said, that’s changed.
He praised the state’s “ambitious approach” to fighting climate change, and said what the Belisles are trying to accomplish “is in the spirit of Vermont.”
Maynard even celebrated the controversy surrounding the project, saying “Vermonters openly debating and expressing their opinions” was another Green Mountain tradition of which to be proud.
That controversy included a “symbolic vote” in the town of Swanton in November 2015, when residents voted 731 to 160 against the project. Travis pointed out that less than 25 percent of the town’s registered voters took part in that vote.
“A large majority had no opinion or were in favor and didn’t come out,” he said.
He estimated it will cost $40 million to construct the turbines, if their application is approved. That figure is “a big nut to chew,” he said.
Travis noted the Belisles have invested a “large portion” of their life savings in the project, and said they would need to seek investors in the project from here on forward.
Iarrapino said he expects a pre-hearing conference from the PSB within the next 30 days. Interested parties can seek formal party status during that conference and provide input on scheduling the series of hearings required by the application process.
Iarrapino said that based on past projects, he expected it could take up to a year before the PSB makes a final decision.
At the foot of the hill below the press conference, opponents of the
project stood waiting, bearing signs opposing the project and industrial wind itself – among them, Christine and Dustin Lang, Rocky Ridge residents and the project’s most outspoken opponents.
Christine called the buy-out option a “huge step,” but Dustin said it was “fractioning.”
“They’re leaving Fairfield out to dry,” he said.
Patty Rainville, who stood at the roadside giving thumbs up to passing vehicles honking in support, said offering the buyout to residents within 3,000 feet of the turbines “doesn’t include hardly anybody.”
“It’s a token offering,” she said. “It’s a WTF thing to me.”
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