In Windham, as in many towns across Vermont, we are working on our budget. We face a large new expense, as we continue to fight the threat posed by Iberdrola/Avangrid, the multi-national wind developer that came here four years ago. Windham is among Vermont’s smallest towns, and Iberdrola/Avangrid is among the largest of the corporations that currently benefit from millions in U.S. tax subsidies. This is truly a David and Goliath mismatch if ever there was one.
Iberdrola’s reps have said they respect our carefully developed town plan, which prohibits industrial wind. Even so, they ignored it and now a flashpoint approaches in the form of a townwide referendum on their project, to be held on November 8. Iberdrola says it will honor a “no” vote and leave, but history suggests the company will find a way to renege even if the town votes “no,” so we must plan for the possibility that we’ll have to take to the battlefield anyway.
Today’s battlefield is different from the one where David and Goliath met. It’s an air-conditioned chamber with judges, lawyers, clerks and expert witnesses. Dollars are slung instead of stones. We’ll need money from Windham taxpayers to pay our legal fees and our experts. What else can we do? We’ll fight to defend our town, but no matter the outcome, our community is wounded.
Recently, Iberdrola unveiled its latest plan for our town. Our community has been tense for a while, and our tension was increased by rumors that the corporation had funded a small group of people to negotiate with them prior to the unveiling. The Iberdrola-appointed group provided cover for the developer’s contention that its new plan responded to “community concerns,” even though the group operated in secrecy. No one knew how it was formed, whether it included Windham residents, when or where it met, or what “community concerns” it voiced. Other Vermont communities that might be future targets of developers’ gropings should remember this peculiar tactic, for it is an especially corrosive one.
By contrast, the current Select Board was elected by the people of Windham. The anti-wind position of two of the three members was known at the time each was elected; the third member’s position was not known when he was elected, nor is it known now. A majority of the Select Board and the town of Windham Planning Commission have been working for years to collect relevant data and information on the site proposed for the installation, as well as on other pertinent matters. We found that our town is an inappropriate location for a project of this type.
At a recent meeting prior to Iberdrola’s unveiling of its current proposal, a person in attendance asserted that the upcoming vote would favor the project, thereby relieving the town of the expense of defending itself. The Select Board, she said, must succumb to the tyranny of the majority and surrender to Iberdrola. Although we had no way of knowing it at the time, this person turned out to be one of Iberdrola’s hand-picked group of conspirators, the only one presently identified. She knew that Iberdrola would be offering Windham voters a bribe of around $1,000 per year for a favorable Nov. 8 vote.
The bribe ploy was hardly homegrown: Iberdrola had bragged about it to Montpelier insiders. So the burning questions for Vermonters might be these: What does it mean for us as a people that Iberdrola has selected and funded a secret group of citizens, in order to bypass a legally elected local government in pursuit of limited self-interest? And what will be the basis for town government, if a company backed with unlimited U.S. taxpayer money can simply establish a fund to pay voters for a favorable vote?
Frank Seawright is chairman of the Windham Select Board.
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