GRAFTON – A study committee appointed by the Grafton Select Board to study the possible health effects from the 24-turbine Iberdrola Renewables wind facility can’t reach a consensus.
Select Board Chairman Ron Pilette, a member of the health study committee, said the committee itself couldn’t agree on which expert reports to believe.
Pilette gave about 30 Grafton residents an update Monday night on the three study committees the Select Board had appointed in preparation for a townwide vote on the Stiles Brook Forest wind project, which would include eight wind turbines in Grafton and 16 in Windham.
Pilette, an outspoken critic of the project, said Iberdrola Renewables had presented the health committee with a great deal of information that supported its contention there were no health effects from the sound coming from the turbines.
But Pilette said the committee also found conflicting information and reports.
Pilette said that all the reports would be available to voters on the town’s website.
“It’s just not a clean process,” he said. “There isn’t agreement on the health committee.”
“At a certain level, people will just have to decide for themselves,” he said.
Grafton and Windham are voting Nov. 8 on the Iberdrola project: Iberdrola has vowed to respect the wishes of the two communities, but so far it has been vague on what it would do if one town voted for the project and the other against.
Originally Grafton was going to wait until the new town plan had been finished, Pilette said, but the controversy has affected the planning commission as well and it also deadlocked on what the town plan should say about siting alternative energy projects..
Two weeks ago, Iberdrola sweetened the pot, so much so that some area residents in Grafton and Windham have condemned it as a bribe. In addition to individual payments to all residents, the Spanish-based energy conglomerate also said it would increase tax payments to both towns, as well as town organizations.
The Stiles Brook Forest project would be built in a 5,000-acre forest currently owned by Meadowsend Timber LLC of New London, New Hampshire. While the project was originally proposed to have 28 turbines, that number has been cut by four, all of them in Windham and all close to the high-voltage transmission line that bisects the high-elevation parcel.
After the meeting, Pilette said the recent poll or survey sent to nonresident taxpayers would not be opened or tallied until the day after the Nov. 8 election, to avoid the appearance of the poll affecting the nonbinding vote.
Windham, which also sent a similar vote to its nonresident taxpayers, is also waiting until after the vote to open and tally the results.
A total of 333 surveys were sent out, he said, one survey per address. Others may be requested, he said.
Either way, Pilette said, all the votes are nonbinding on Iberdrola.
Selectman John Turner, who is working with the group studying the economics of the Iberdrola project, said the committee would hold two workshops for residents to calculate what the Iberdrola offer would mean for their individual property taxes.
Unlike the health committee, he said, the economics committee has agreed on the economic issues.
He said the committee would present within the week “a fabulous report … a pretty comprehensive report” that analyzes the Vermont tax policy and the Iberdrola numbers.
Grafton also debated whether to hire an attorney to work on wind issues, but not on the regulatory or negotiating aspects of the project. They finally decided to ask town attorney Robin Stern for some recommendations.
Stern, who recently joined the board of directors of the Windham Foundation, has said wind energy is not her area of expertise.
The Windham Foundation, the town’s largest taxpayer, recently took a stand against the Stiles Brook Forest project. But Pilette said he understood Stern abstained from that board vote.
A public meeting is now slated for at 6 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Grafton School to discuss the upcoming vote.
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