MONTPELIER, Vt. – Developers are demanding that residents who want a say in the Public Service Board hearings on the Swanton Wind Project be given two weeks to decide whether they will participate.
Opponents of the project say that’s not nearly enough time.
Developers want a quick decision so they can move ahead in obtaining a certificate of public good, essentially a green light to move forward with construction.
Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, wasn’t at the meeting Monday afternoon, but via speakerphone she argued that two weeks is too short.
“Normally how these projects go is a 45-day notice is filed and people would have time to prepare and then the application is filed,” she said. “They filed their 45-day notice more than a year ago. So yes, people are in a way caught by surprise.”
Representatives for the Department of Public Service and the Agency of Natural Resources said at the meeting they would prefer that power purchase agreements and economic impact studies be completed first, giving the public until January to intervene in the often-complicated Public Service Board process.
The project’s developers – Travis and Ashley Belisle – and attorney Leslie Cadwell said they see no reason to wait.
“I don’t see a reason to hold this proceeding simply so folks can wait until January to decide whether they want to intervene,” Cadwell told the Public Service Board and about 30 residents in attendance. “There have been plenty of opportunities for folks to make a decision.”
‘Pretty aggressive timeline’
The project includes seven 500-foot turbines, which local residents worry will create problems with sound, vibrations and water runoff, as well as spoiling the aesthetics of the area and hurting property values.
Joel Clark, chairman of Swanton’s Selectboard, said by having the public hearings before the proper information gathering is done would be like “putting the cart before the horse.”
“The fact that we don’t have solid financial information regarding the economic viability and so on” is a concern, he said. “That issue was brought up today. It’s very early in the process and we’ll see how it all plays out.”
Cadwell said if two weeks is not enough time, then the developers could settle on four, but “waiting until after the first of the year for a public hearing and intervention doesn’t seem very fair to the petitioner who has spent quite an amount of money and time bringing this petition to the board.”
Smith said trying to get other steps, such as rulings on intervention and the discovery process, completed before Christmas is not realistic.
Town of Swanton attorney Ed Adrian called the proposal a “pretty aggressive timeline,” and cited the coming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays as a reason to wait.
“We feel that it’s really important to allow those who wish to intervene enough time to make a decision when they don’t have other things on their minds,” Adrian said.
Dustin Lang, who owns property with his wife, Christine, within about a mile of the proposed project, said he doesn’t think the community is up to speed.
“I believe that the Town of Swanton and the people of Franklin County think this is a dead issue,” said Lang. “They thought after the town vote of 731 to 160 that this project was over. The public is not aware of how this Public Service Board works.”
Christine Lang added that for the public to get involved with the PSB is a complicated process.
“They make it sound like intervention is a really easy thing and it isn’t,” she said. “The citizens’ guide is not anything an average citizen can just sit down and figure out.”
Members of the Public Service Board gave no indication when they might make a decision.
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