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Grafton, Windham voters deal fatal blow to Iberdrola wind proposal

In a decisive blow to a proposed industrial wind project, the voters in Windham and Grafton have voted against putting a 24-turbine industrial wind project along the Stiles Brook tract of land that straddles the two towns.

When the votes were counted on Tuesday night, Grafton defeated the proposal 235 to 158 and Windham turned away the project 180 to 101.

The project – proposed more than four years ago by Iberdrola Renewables – was to be made up of 16, 500-foot turbines in Windham and eight in neighboring Grafton along the privately held Stiles Brook tract.

Both towns had adopted language for their articles as proposed by the Spanish wind company and representatives of Iberdrola said that they would abide by a decision of the voters of the towns.

On Tuesday night, Windham resident Kathy Scott, who with several other residents negotiated through an attorney with Iberdrola to get specific benefits for town residents, said, “It was a record turnout … enough of a margin that nothing happens now,” referring to Iberdrola’s promise.

While Scott was criticized for negotiating with the company when the Windham Select Board refused to, she said, “We didn’t go into this to build a wind farm. We did this to start a conversation. Now, the voters have spoken and I’m fine with that.”

She added that Iberdrola should “honor the vote” as it said it would. “They have nothing to gain at this point.”

Following the negotiations with the Windham residents, Iberdrola returned just a few weeks before the election to sweeten the pot over and above the required taxes that it would pay.

It offered each voter registered in Windham and Grafton “partnership payments” of a minimum annual payout of $1,162 and $428, respectively. After an outcry that the company was buying votes, Iberdrola changed its target audience to each “adult full-time resident,” although the cries of vote buying and bribery continued.

Late Tuesday night, Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman said, “As we’ve indicated, we’ll abide by the vote … we’ll cease development of the project. What that means is not taking it forward to the Public Service Board. (However) the logistics of what needs to happen is something we’ll have to look at over the next few days.”

Asked what would happen to the assets – including research – the company has developed while working on the project over the past four years, Copleman said, “We like to develop, own and operate projects long-term … so we haven’t been focused on selling the assets of the project to someone else.”

He added that while the company was well aware of opposition to the proposal, it is also grateful to those in the community who supported it.

Also Tuesday night, Sam Battaglino, a Grafton resident and former Select Board chair who has been staunchly against the wind project, said, “People made the right decision. They did their homework and it’s reflected in the vote. I believe ‘the bribe’ turned more people off.” He added that if another fight against such a wind project were in the offing, “I personally am prepared for another fight. … I’m happy (with the vote outcome) but there’s not going to be any celebrations at my house.”

Al Sands, a pro-process supporter of the project who sits on the Grafton Select Board, praised the large turnout, but added, “It’s not the win that bothers me, it’s the way it was done. … there has been so much misinformation” disseminated from the beginning.

He added that he was concerned that Vermont would not be able to reach its renewable energy goals. And he suggested that to do so, the state should consider identifying prime sites for renewable energy projects, then have companies bid on building such projects on those properties.

After months of contentious wrestling from anti- and pro-wind residents alike both in public meetings and behind the scenes, Election Day was a subdued affair at both polls. Was it election fatigue, or the warm sun-filled day?

Maybe it was that both polls – at the Windham and Grafton Town Offices – were tightly controlled by their Town Clerks.

Around 3 p.m., Windham Town Clerk Jo-Jo Chlebogiannis of Windham said, “It’s been a clean and beautiful day.” She added that the voting environment this year is more controlled, having been moved to a less-open space, where curtains could be hung for voter privacy, poll watchers could sit across from the ballot box and a video camera from FACT-TV could record the entire day.

In Grafton, Town Clerk Kim Record managed the flow of voters through a maze of three small rooms to handle check-in, secret voting and ballot drop off.

The only glitch of the day she said was when one anti-wind protester bearing a card board sign stood too close to the polling place and had to be shooed away.