MONTPELIER – The Public Service Board (PSB) has scheduled its regulatory process regarding Swanton Wind.
The process will begin the first week of January and carry on through September, leaving the fate of the divisive project uncertain for nearly another year.
Swanton Wind’s developers, Travis and Ashley Belisle, of Swanton, hope the PSB process will produce a Certificate of Public Good for the project, the final regulatory step before the project can begin construction. Opponents, including attorneys representing the towns of Swanton and Fairfield, hope the process will thwart the project for good.
The process begins with a workshop scheduled for the first week of January “as proposed by the non-petitioners,” as the PSB’s official scheduling order put it. Those who have not yet become official parties in the regulatory process – what the PSB calls “intervenors” – can ask Swanton Wind representatives about the project at this workshop to better understand the project prior to becoming involved in its regulatory process.
The date, place and time of the workshop have not yet been decided, and will be determined by the PSB. The Swanton Town Selectboard plans to recommend the workshop is hosted at Missisquoi Valley Union Middle and High School (MVU) in Swanton during a weekend to ensure maximum attendance, or, if the PSB declines to approve a weekend workshop, on a weekday evening from 5 to 9 p.m. The selectboard’s chair, Joel Clark, estimated at Tuesday night’s regular selectboard meeting that the workshop could run anywhere from one to five hours.
Those seeking “intervenor” status will have 11 calendar days after the workshop to apply for such status, according to the PSB’s scheduling order.
The discovery period follows once the list of intervenors is finalized. Discovery allows parties to question each other’s witnesses regarding what has already been put before the board. The written discovery period will run through February and March before non-petitioner direct testimony, meaning direct testimony from parties other than Swanton Wind, on Apr. 17. Responses and rebuttals follow through July.
Then comes a public hearing and the PSB’s site visit the week of July 17, followed by further testimony and rebuttal through August. A technical hearing on the project is scheduled for the week of Sept. 11. Briefs, essentially the parties’ closing statements, will follow the technical hearing, although the briefs have yet to be scheduled.
PSB members signed and dated its scheduling order Nov. 10. The order notes that Swanton Wind and the Department of Public Service filed two separate scheduling proposals at the end of October. Swanton Wind proposed beginning the process this November rather than in January, saying to do otherwise ignores the amount of time and money the project’s developers have expended preparing its application. The application has been repeatedly postponed in the past year to conduct additional studies in response to local concerns such as the flicker effect of the project’s turbines.
The PSB’s final schedule combines elements of both proposals. Swanton Wind attorney Anthony Iarrapino said that while the schedule is longer than that proposed by the project’s developers, “This should give the public more time to become fully educated about features of the project designed to meet or exceed Vermont standards to protect the environment and public health. It will also ensure that the board can weigh public comments in light of evidence from all parties.”
Intervenors thus far
Attorney Leslie Cadwell represents Swanton Wind before the PSB. The Department of Public Service, Agency of Natural Resources, Division for Historic Preservation, Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets and Department of Health are all represented, as is Christine and Dustin Lang, Swanton residents and the project’s longest-outspoken opponents and the Town of Swanton. Annette Smith, of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, is also involved, as is the Northwest Regional Planning Commission (NRPC).
NRPC Regional Planner Taylor Newton represented the organization during the PSB’s pre-hearing conference, but the NRPC has not yet determined whether it will be more productive to retain Newton as its representative through the proceedings or to hire an attorney.
Additionally, the commission’s stance on the project has not yet been decided, despite comments made at Tuesday night’s Swanton Town Selectboard meeting to the contrary. That decision will be important to the PSB’s regulatory process. The PSB is required to give special deference to projects’ accordance with local regional plans, in this case those of the NRPC.
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