SWANTON, Vt. – He came, he saw, he waffled.
David Zuckerman ventured into politically unfriendly territory on Tuesday evening to listen to residents who live near the proposed Swanton Wind project vent their concerns and frustrations.
But when it was the Democrat/Progressive candidate for lieutenant governor’s turn to talk, he wasn’t ready to take sides.
“There’s no doubt that there’s a group of citizens very concerned about the impacts,” Zuckerman said. “There’s a lot I need to learn. Some I have learned prior, some further research will be necessary in terms of what the impacts are on the wetlands and waterways.”
Zuckerman said to the 20 or so local residents he was not necessarily for or against the project, despite what some media reports implied.
“I didn’t say I’m opposed,” he said. “And I’ve gotten flack because, as you can imagine, others are saying ‘How can you be suddenly opposed to it?’ And I say, I was never for or against it.”
In March, Zuckerman was among a handful of state senators who voted against energy siting legislation (S.230/Act 174) that gave towns some deference when dealing with the Public Service Board regarding the siting of energy projects.
After that vote, he noted his concern about high noise levels coming from F-35 fighter jets and said the legislation should hold all sources of substantial noise to reasonable standards.
Swanton residents cite noise from the proposed turbines as a major reason they oppose the project, along with the likelihood of increased storm-water runoff, potential contamination of the watershed, and disruption of bird and deer populations.
Residents also said the debate among neighbors is tearing the community apart, a situation Zuckerman said he sympathized with.
“I very much value the challenge you are facing with neighbors not talking right now,” he said. “I know it’s happening with Act 46 and some of the school challenges as well. We have often in Vermont faced really difficult challenges in the moment.”
Zuckerman was acting as something of a stand-in for gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter, who declined an invitation – not for the first time, according to local resident Michelle Deslandes – to meet with residents about the wind project.
A spokesperson for Minter messaged some of the residents that she would get a briefing from Zuckerman to hear about their concerns.
When Zuckerman was asked what he might relay to her, he said that he would have to assess all the information that he’s taken in first.
Republican candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, Phil Scott and Randy Brock, met with area residents in September. They were critical of the project and indicated they would not support wind turbines on Rocky Ridge or any other industrial-scale wind projects.
‘He’s for big wind’
Zuckerman and the voters engaged in a spirited and sometimes emotional dialogue back and forth.
Local resident Christine Lang said she felt siting a large turbine project on the area’s relatively small ridge line sets a dangerous precedent.
“I look at this one and I say if you can put this in, then no ridge is too small, and no house is too close, anywhere,” she said.
Some residents called for large-scale energy projects to be held to the siting standards of Act 250, a stricter standard of abiding to local zoning regulations, a position Zuckerman did not agree with.
“Act 250 is one process; Act 248 is another,” Zuckerman said. “You know I’ve been clear that I don’t think these should go through Act 250.”
Some residents mentioned that technology for turbines is advancing all the time, so there should be no need to rush to build large and disruptive projects that might soon be out-of-date.
Zuckerman didn’t agree with that assessment, either.
“I’ve seen a couple of different things online about different systems of wind turbines,” he said. “I’ve also talked with some turbine folks who also point out that the efficiency is not there with a lot of these new technologies and these are the most efficient type.”
When Zuckerman was asked how he would feel if a large turbine project were built near his home, he deflected into a broader discussion about climate change.
“For me, our planet and the value across the globe is more important than my personal human value,” he said.
After Zimmerman left and the residents dispersed, opposition politicians who were on hand weighed in.
“Towns and people who are going to be directly affected by any energy project need to be able to have not only a say, they need to be able to determine whether or not a project can happen,” said state Rep. Marianna Gamache, R-Swanton. “If people don’t want it, then they shouldn’t be forced to have it.”
State Rep. Brian Savage, R-Swanton, said it was clear to him which way Zuckerman was leaning.
“We thanked him for coming up, but it’s obvious to me he’s supporting the wind project,” Savage said.
That was the feeling among several residents as well.
“So with all the information that we gave to you, my overall view of listening to your responses, it makes me feel like you are OK with what’s going to happen if it’s going to happen,” Deslandes said.
Lang reached the same conclusion.
“He’s for big wind and he doesn’t mind sacrificing,” she said.
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