In a surprising change, the Grafton Select Board now believes it may be able to hold a formal, binding vote of registered voters on the proposed Iberdrola wind project to coincide with the presidential election – Tuesday, Nov. 8. The Spanish wind company is proposing to construct 28, 500-foot wind turbines on land in Windham and Grafton in what would be the largest industrial wind farm in Vermont.
Just two weeks ago, on Sept. 6, the board agreed to write to Iberdrola to explain that the town likely would not be ready to hold a vote of registered voters on the company’s controversial wind project until late 2016 or early 2017. In the letter, which you can read here, the board expressed hope that Iberdrola would still abide by the decision of the voters even if the binding vote did not take place when Iberdrola had hoped, which was Nov. 8. That letter was finalized and emailed to Iberdrola on Thursday, Sept. 15.
But now, just four days later, on Monday, Sept. 19, all that seems to have changed.
According to board chair Ron Pilette, the two things that have made the difference for him are the fact that earlier on Monday, the board received an almost completed draft of the Town Plan and that the three committees charged with gathering information on the impact of the wind project on health, economics and the environment have been – by and large – going full-steam ahead.
Both, he believes, are needed to help inform voters before they walk into the voting booth to vote for or against the wind project. And both, he said, should be ready prior to Nov. 8.
During the meeting, attended by Pilette and members Skip Lisle and John Turner (members Cynthia Gibbs and Al Sands were absent), Pilette said that since work on the Town Plan “is moving forward quite well, perhaps we’ll have an Energy Chapter with substance … and we can begin thinking about when the town can vote … if … appropriate, to move to a Nov. 8 date.”
Turner said that “the best situation is to have the greatest number of people show up,” to vote, which would happen during the Nov. 8 presidential election.
While the draft Town Plan remains missing the crucial Energy Chapter – an important section as the Public Service Commission will now use it to assess a town’s intent when it comes to such projects – the Planning Commission, which has been working on the Town Plan for several years, expects that it can pull a draft Energy Chapter together by the next Select Board meeting, which will occur on Monday, Oct. 3.
During Monday’s meeting, Pilette had asked Planning Commission member Liisa Kissel if the commission would hold extra meetings by then to bring the chapter together. Pilette added that “while it would be nice to have an official Town Plan that has been approved, that’s a three- to fourth-month process,” which includes public hearings and possible revisions.
The change in timing will also mean that the non-binding poll that was to have included registered voters will now only apply to second homeowners. Turner, who has been in charge of the pulling together the poll, said that changes to the poll will have to be addressed.
According to Town Clerk Kim Record, Sunday, Oct. 9 is the required 30 days prior to the vote, making it the legal deadline for the Select Board to approve the wording of the wind article and warn it. It then goes to the printer. Voters will receive the wind ballot as a separate sheet on Election Day.
The board also expects it will follow the lead of the Windham Select Board and count the nonbinding poll following the Nov. 8 vote count.
The informal timeline marching to the Nov. 8 vote looks something like this:
• Sometime between Sept. 26-Oct. 3: Planning Commission meets to finish Energy Chapter;
• Hydrology Forum is held (no specific date set);
• Non-resident taxpayer poll is sent out and returned;
• Tuesday, Nov. 8 vote is taken; votes counted; poll counted.
In other related news, the board began moving on searching for an attorney to hire for the non-negotiating aspects of the proposed wind project. According to Record, the town has already spent $2,900 of $7,000 budgeted in 2016 for legal fees. During a discussion of using a proposed independent escrow account, funded by Iberdrola but managed by someone of the town’s choosing, Record said that adding $50,000 to $100,000 of its own to town legal fees “will be a big jump in taxes … For every $15,000, it’s a penny on the tax rate.”
Pilette responded, “We’ll have to make careful choices.”
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