HOPKINTON – The last stragglers out of the Town of Hopkinton board meeting on Monday saw the flag outside the hall had been lowered to half staff, apparently in protest of the town council’s decision not to vote for a proposed wind law that has been in the works for nearly two years.
The town board voted 2-2 on the wind law, with Town Supervisor Susan M. Wood and town board member Kelly Pullano voting in support of the law, town board members Steven Parker Jr., and Susan Lyon voting against it, and town board member Gilbert Sochia abstaining due to a conflict of interest.
“The motion is dead,” Ms. Wood said after the final vote was taken.
The new wind law would have replaced the current town law, passed in 2011. It would regulate the North Ridge Wind Energy Project, which the energy company Avangrid plans to establish in the town.
The vote came after discussion between the town board members, mainly Ms. Lyon and Ms. Pullano.
At a previous working session involving all the board except Mr. Sochia, Ms. Lyon had supported changes to the wind law for more restrictive setbacks of turbines and limiting expansion of the turbines south of State Route 72. On Monday, however, she appeared to walk back those decisions.
“I think we need to give Avangrid an opportunity to sit down with the board,” she said. “Avangrid has said if (the project) does not go south of 72, they will walk.”
Ms. Lyon listed a number of projects she said the town needed, including a salt shed, saying she did not want to potentially sacrifice the income from the wind project without discussion.
“This wind law has nothing to do with money, it has only to do with protecting the people in this room,” Ms. Pullano replied.
Ms. Lyon also said that she was swayed by the 220 or so postcards submitted by town residents who, according to Ms. Lyon, “want the conversation to continue.”
“It’s a lot to learn,” she told the Times. “Avangrid has never been able to talk directly to the board.”
Ms. Lyon said that the individual communications and meetings between town board members and Avangrid representatives were not sufficient. Asked why bring this up now, Ms. Lyon said she had been asking Ms. Wood for such a meeting for months.
Following the vote, Ms. Wood told Ms. Lyon and Mr. Parker, who has been publicly critical of the wind law previously, to set up a public meeting with the board and Avangrid, along with any other relevant groups they thought necessary.
“It was my job to get a law passed before we had any negotiations with Avangrid,” Ms. Wood said after the meeting. “Yes, I’m disappointed; the wind board put so much work into this.”
Ms. Wood said that whether Avangrid remained or left was not relevant to the law.
“This is Hopkinton business, not Avangrid business,” she said. If the company decides to leave because of the law, “That’s their choice.”
Ms. Pullano expressed similar frustrations.
“This is shameful, that is how I would describe tonight,” she said. “When I ran for election, I ran on supporting this wind law.”
The public comment period followed the vote, with some residents thanking Ms. Lyon for her vote.
“First of all, I want to thank Sue Lyon for standing up,” said Frank Potenzano, chairman of the pro-wind citizens group North Country for a Brighter Future and a lease holder for a turbine. “This town needs money.”
Most of the residents, however, expressed deep disappointment in the vote.
“I just want you three to know, you can ask me tomorrow to hand in my stuff, but you just made a big mistake,” said Ernest Wood, Ms. Wood’s husband.
Mr. Wood has worked for the town taking care of parks for eight years, since retiring from Alcoa, and was on the board for 22 years.
“Salt shed issues?” he said to Ms. Lyon. “That’s a joke. We wanted to move that down there when your father was on the board. … You guys ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”
That brought loud applause, stamping, and shouts of support from the anti-wind residents in the room. Some anti-wind residents also heckled people who spoke in favor of the project.
Ms. Wood eventually called an end to the public comment section due to this disruption, without calling on Scott McDonald, a representative from Avangrid, who had his hand raised.
The business of the board continued, including a vote on an ethics board that would decide conflicts of interests, including on the wind law. Ms. Wood had three names to bring forward, but Mr. Sochia added four more just as the motion came up.
“How long have I been asking for names?” Ms. Wood said.
The motion was tabled, as was a vote on replacements for the Wind Advisory Board that drafted the law.
The names for the board included Duane French, Sandy Maine, Jeffery Snell and Janice Pease, the last two of whom have been vocal opponents of the wind project.
Mr. French received three votes, everyone else received two, and there was some discussion of other people who had sought to be on the board but might have a conflict of interests.
“Table them till next month when I can get with the damn attorney again,” Ms. Wood said.
The one moment of unity was a decree in support of Ronald Streeter, who was named 2018 Firefighter of the Year for St. Lawrence County.
Wind supporters and opponents alike applauded after Ms. Wood read the decree.