SWANTON – The town selectboard has voted to use $10,000 to “vigorously oppose” the Swanton Wind Project.
Wind issues overshadowed other relevant municipal updates during the board’s Oct. 4 meeting.
The vote came after a lengthy executive session, during which board members conferred with the town’s attorney, Ed Adrian, regarding the town’s legal ability to fighting the project.
The Swanton Wind Project submitted its application for a Certificate of Public Good from the Public Service Board (PSB) at the beginning of September. The PSB’s review process includes several hearings, in which Swanton town representatives plan to be involved.
Selectboard member Daniel Billado made the motion and noted the town would not ask the taxpayers for more money in the future, despite expensive legal fees.
Selectboard Vice Chair L. John Lavoie said, “We need to face the reality that this could be expensive and put a lot of burden on everyone.”
To that end, the board has asked citizens to donate money in an effort to finance the town’s continued efforts to thwart the controversial project, following an offer by one of its most outspoken opponents, Christine Lang.
Lang said the project’s opponents are “more than willing to solicit the money and get donations” aiding the selectboard in their efforts.
Anthony Iarrapino, an attorney representing the Swanton Wind Project, was unable to attend the meeting. Reached by phone afterward, he said the project “recognizes town officials are entitled to participate in the PSB hearing process,” and that such participation was welcomed.
However, he said, “it’s unfortunate that the town is spending taxpayer funds to fight a project that would generate so much tax revenue and economic development for the town.”
The project’s developers estimate annual payments of $150,000 to the Town of Swanton. A press release announcing their PSB application submission noted that money could pay for the town’s police or library budgets, as well as 99 percent of the town’s fire department and fire truck replacement budget.
Iarrapino said he was curious whether the town was only prepared to pay legal fees or whether it would present facts at the PSB hearings. “There’s been much conversation so far driven by misinformation on protecting wildlife and engineering details,” he said, “a series of misinformed and intentionally uninformed allegations.”
Iarrapino described the PSB hearing process as being “like court.” “For projects like this to get their due process,” he said, “you can’t just throw accusations at the wall. Hopefully, they appreciate there’s going to have to be much more thoughtful, fact-based participation than we’ve seen so far.”
The PSB’s pre-hearing conference regarding the project is scheduled for Oct. 20 in Montpelier. The proceedings are open to the public.
Lang asked the selectboard if town representatives planned to attend an upcoming Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT) conference, at which a group planned to petition the VLCT for stronger language regarding municipalities’ deference in renewable energy siting. Town Administrator David Jescavage said he already planned to do so.
Jescavage shared preliminary ads for the town’s economic development coordinator position. He planned to initially advertise the position for an individual, and then, if no qualified applicant came forward, to advertise the position for a consultant. Board members said it only made sense to advertise both at once. Selectboard Chair Joel Clark also wanted it made clear that the continuation of the position after one year depended on the position’s success.
Jescavage agreed to make the necessary changes and then post the job, the culmination of nearly a year’s effort and discussion among municipal leaders.
The board also authorized Jescavage to apply for a feasibility study regarding potential bike lanes from Lake Street or Middle Road down to Maquam Shore Road, as well as to apply for a bike lane construction grant on South River Street. Residents of both roads have appeared before the selectboard with concerns about pedestrian safety.
Lastly, the selectboard voted to approve a new art wall, to be established by the Swanton Elementary School, within the town right-of-way on Fourth Street.
The next selectboard meeting is Oct. 18 at 6 p.m. in the town offices on Academy Street.
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