As chair of the Select Board of the Town of Windham, I was recently vilified in a letter sent to various Vermont news outlets. Besides the peculiar accusation that I am “classless,” the letter criticizes a challenge at this year’s Town Meeting to another sitting Select Board member, who was up for re-election. Although the letter suggests that such a challenge was unprecedented, it wasn’t: two years ago as an incumbent, I was challenged unsuccessfully and nobody thought much of it.
But a lot has happened in Windham during the intervening two years. Feelings about a large industrial wind project proposed for our town are still running high. A challenge was mounted against an incumbent Select Board member who was thought to champion the wind project, by an independent candidate who lost by a small margin. Some were disappointed, but didn’t feel it was big deal. Some, like the letter writer, found the challenge itself annoying.
But more important than an individual’s personal annoyance is the more widespread and lasting effect on a small and generally harmonious community of the state’s misguided encouragement of industrial scale renewable energy in unsuitable locations.
Many will remember the referendum here in Windham last Nov. 8 on what would have been the state’s largest wind project, to be sited centrally in our town. Prior to the vote, the landowner, the developer and the developer’s public relations firm worked our town over, using an array of techniques from simple deception to direct payment to voters if the project received a majority of “yes” votes.
The voter turnout was 92 percent and about 65 percent of those voted against the proposal, causing the developer to abandon the project. You might think the whole issue would have been put to rest, and that Windham property owners would not have to face the wind-turbine threat again. But shortly before Town Meeting, day a spokesman for the landowner appeared to encourage overtures from other wind developers, helping to keep alive hopes for some and fears for others.
It is probably unlikely that another wind developer will take a whack at Windham, and even more unlikely if the noise guidelines recently proposed by the Vermont Public Service Board are adopted. Those guidelines include noise levels akin to European standards, which are the result of a great deal of experience with turbine noise and which are more protective than those currently in effect in Vermont. Importantly for us, the PSB also proposes setbacks of 10 times the height of the turbine, vindicating the position taken by the majority of the Windham Select Board during our long engagement with the wind developer. Our position was and remains that the siting proposed for our town is the most inappropriate in Vermont.
Some 100 Windham families would have been, according to the proposed rule, too close to at least one turbine. Even so, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group is frantically lobbying to blunt the changes proposed by the PSB. To my mind, they are battling to assist the wind industry to continue to assault Vermont communities and propose projects that will hurt Vermonters.
Because these activities do hurt us: The damage to communities like ours that is created in the run-up to a wind project is bad and, as we are reminded by heated letters to the editor, long lasting. And while you may think that your community is strong enough to get through such a difficult time and then quickly pick up and continue as though nothing ever happened, I’m not so sure. The bitterness tends to linger.
I don’t know how to advise anyone on this and can only observe that whatever sense of “community” you believe you have may not as durable as you think.
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