SWANTON – The Swanton selectboard plans to appear before the Public Service Board (PSB), opposing the Swanton Wind Project.
“Everybody knows that we’re against this project,” said selectboard member Dan Billado during the board’s Tuesday meeting. “I think we as a board should continue to let the public know that we’re against this.”
The Swanton Wind Project, developed by Travis and Ashley Belisle, announced on Sept. 9 that the project had submitted its PSB application, seeking a Certificate of Public Good, the final step before the project can begin construction.
The PSB’s application process includes a series of public hearings. Selectboard members told the members of the public in attendance last night that the Town of Swanton would attend and speak at those meetings.
However, Selectboard Chair Joel Clark said the extent of the town’s involvement in those hearings, as well as the entirety of the PSB’s review process, was not yet clear. The selectboard entered into executive session after an hour to deliberate further with the town’s attorney, Ed Adrian.
The selectboard voted to send the PSB a packet of information opposing the project during its Sept. 20 meeting, after a lengthy executive session. “We made a decision on a path,” Clark said, “but based on our attorney’s input, we need to revisit that.”
“At no time did we have three board members discussing it, I just want to make that clear,” he said, drawing laughter from the public, as well as from Planning Commission members in attendance. Three members discussing the project outside of a warned meeting would have been a violation of the state’s Open Meeting Law.
Christine Lang, one of the project’s most outspoken opponents, praised the selectboard for acting on a Nov. 2015 vote, in which townspeople voted 731 to 160 – “one to five,” as Lang put it last night – against the project. Swanton Wind’s attorney, Anthony Iarrapino, has disputed that characterization, noting only 25 percent of the town’s population turned out for the vote.
Lang said now was the time to “honor that vote and protect those citizens.”
“Intervention by the town is critical in this process,” she said. “The town is the only entity that gets standing on all the issues in this process. It needs to happen quick because things are going to happen fast with the Public Service Board. It’s just a different world.”
Lang offered the selectboard the unconditional support of the project’s opponents. “You’re not going to be in this alone,” she said. “You’ve got citizens behind you, not just the ones who are here today. There are a lot of citizens putting a lot of time and effort into this issue. But we don’t want the town to be spending a lot of money on this, either. We can raise money. As citizens, we are more than willing to go out and solicit for that money, and get those donations to help with this process.”
She urged the selectboard to reach out to other towns near the project, such as St. Albans and Fairfield, a suggestion taken up by Patty Rainville.
Rainville said she had spoken with representatives from both communities, and that the towns were “softened up” for discussion.
She also predicted the situation could worsen if the project is not thwarted at the PSB level.
“Have you ever seen a wind project that didn’t eventually expand?” she asked.
Vermont State Rep. Marianna Gamache, R-Swanton, warned, “You’re dealing with a lot of strong people who have a lot of money behind them.”
Planning Commission member Sara Luneau-Swan told those in attendance that any member of the public can subscribe to the PSB’s mailing list to receive updates on the process as it moves forward. The PSB can be reached by phone at 828-2358, or by email at psb. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Luneau-Swan said industrial wind opposition has momentum now, due to widely publicized protests such as those regarding the Deerfield Wind Project.
The PSB’s first hearing was scheduled for Oct. 12. It has since been postponed to an as-yet-undecided date.
When Clark opened the floor to discussion, both pro and con, during last night’s meeting, he asked, “Anyone pro-wind?”
Every seat in the room was filled, but no one spoke.
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