SWANTON – A Public Service Board conference to design a new timetable for the board’s Swanton Wind review did not accomplish as much as promised in Montpelier yesterday.
The board ostensibly scheduled the meeting to determine a new schedule for its regulatory review of the proposed wind project.
Several agency representatives and parties participating in the review attended the Wednesday afternoon meeting, as well as the project’s attorneys.
But rather than determine the schedule there, the board ordered schedule proposals and responses to Swanton Wind’s proposed schedule submitted by June 2, due to parties’ inability to agree on a schedule as of yet.
The Public Service Board’s original schedule, on which participating parties agreed in October 2016, would have concluded the review process in October or November 2017.
But after inclement weather and an unpredictably enormous amount of participant applications and discovery questions, the process has fallen two months behind, with further delays seeming inevitable.
Swanton Wind’s proposal for a new schedule would extend the process into June 2018.
Swanton Wind’s attorney before the board, Leslie Cadwell, has previously spoken in favor of expediting the process. Other parties, specifically citizen intervenors, have spoken against such expedience, arguing it could come at the expense of a thorough evaluation of the project.
Therefore, it seems likely the final schedule could draw out the project even beyond Swanton Wind’s proposed June 2018 end date.
A site visit has been tentatively scheduled for June 12. “I think there are a lot of folks who would like to go up and see the site,” Cadwell said, “and it’s a really good time of year to do that.”
Parties participating in the board’s review will be able to support or argue against a June 12 site visit when submitting responses to Swanton Wind’s proposed schedule. But Annette Smith, of Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE), objected to that date at yesterday’s status conference, since one of VCE’s expert witnesses will be unavailable on that date.
“Unless everybody agrees it should be the week of June 12, it probably won’t be,” James Volz, the board’s chair, said.
Smith expressed concern that access to the site for VCE’s witnesses could be an issue. Volz advised her to file a motion with the board should access become an issue.
Paula Kane, a citizen intervenor in the process, asked if a visit to Fairfield Pond would be possible as well “to see what issues are from that [area],” which is on the opposite side of the ridgeline where Swanton Wind’s seven turbines would be constructed. Volz advised her to include that suggestion in her June 2 filing.
Smith raised another issue: organizing answers from Swanton Wind and its representatives in the discovery process. Swanton Wind has issued those answers in groups rather than all at once, and there are many of those answers, since there have been around 1,000 discovery questions directed to Swanton Wind so far.
Smith said the amount of discovery responses was a “mishmash every single one of us participating in this case is going to have spend hours just to read through.”
Cadwell said Swanton Wind has created a spreadsheet to organize the equal amount of discovery questions, and suggested Smith do the same regarding the responses to those questions.
“As lawyers, we understand the pain, because we had to organize those questions and send them out to our experts,” Cadwell said. She acknowledged Swanton Wind could have withheld the discovery responses until all questions had been submitted, therefore issuing all the responses at once, but said “we felt it was important to get the information out to the parties.”
“The petition doesn’t have any more special ability to organize that information than any of the other parties here,” Cadwell said. She noted Swanton Wind has complied with its obligation according to the Public Service Board’s discovery rules.
Smith asked the board if Swanton Wind could send its spreadsheet to VCE. “Anything that we can get to help us,” Smith said. “We tried taking the PDF documents and putting them into Word. It’s just a massive amount of material, and you’re going to have all these lawyers doing the exact same thing. It’s just a waste.”
Both Smith and Geoffrey Commons, of the Vermont Department of Public Service, brought to the board’s attention a footnote in Swanton Wind’s schedule filing, noting that Swanton Wind “will be seeking reimbursement for its experts’ time spent preparing discovery responses” and stating that such reimbursement is authorized by rules governing the board.
The board has not responded to the issue of whether Swanton Wind may do so, since, as board members noted, a motion regarding the matter has yet to be officially filed.
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