Chester Select Board says ‘it’s curtains’ for solar farm on town land


By Shawn Cunningham

After a year of gathering information and deliberating, the Chester Select Board last Wednesday closed the door on the construction of a solar farm on town land across Route 103 North from Trebo Road.

Earlier, at its Oct. 9 meeting, the board had expected to hear from the Luke Schullenberger – a principal in Green Lantern, the company that had made the greatest progress in proposing the project – but he was unable to attend due to illness. Instead, Mike Wigham of Integrated Solar, the general contractor for the project, gave a power point presentation that seemed to indicate that several issues were not as they appeared in the proposed contract.  Among these was the question of whether the credit that the town would get from the solar farm could only be used on its metered electric bill or if the credit was “money” that could be used against any electric bill including streetlights.

Since that meeting, Green Lantern had submitted a new statement of terms outlining changes to its offer. Commenting on a memo from town manager David Pisha that outlined Green Lantern’s most recent proposal, Select Board chair John DiBenedetti said, “In my opinion, it’s all going in the wrong direction in terms of benefiting the town.”

Member Derek Suursoo added that, “I find myself in a similar position as before, I am not very interested in this proposal.”

“I find myself in a similar position as before, I am not very interested in this proposal.”

Derek Suursoo
board member

Green Lantern’s latest included dropping payment of property taxes in favor of a PILOT (or payment in lieu of taxes) each year. While the town calculated that the tax on the property would be about $6,500, Green Lantern was offering $2,000 pointing out that tax revenue could go up and down based on appeals of assessments and other factors, while the PILOT would remain the same throughout the 20 year contract.

Calculating that the contract could still be worth $13,000 to the town in income, member Bill Lindsay made a motion to have Pisha sign a contract according to the terms outlined in Pisha’s memo. “I find it difficult to walk away from — I don’t like to call it free money — but money coming into the town.”

“I find it difficult to walk away from — I don’t like to call it free money — but money coming into the town.”

Bill Lindsay
board member

Arne Jonynas seconded Lindsay’s motion saying, “Every time we get a new letter the money goes down. Part of me is upset that we have let this go by. I’m OK with this.”

The board noted that the town had already spent $3,000 in legal fees to work on the contract with no possibility of recouping that from Green Lantern unless the project is completed by the end of the year. In addition, the town attorney had not looked at the new terms yet and had not answered questions about the town’s tax obligations in working with a for-profit venture.

DeBenedetti asked Lindsay if the motion could be amended to sign the contract after a review by the town’s lawyer. Lindsay said that he based his motion on the memo in the packet and would not change it.

After more discussion, Lindsay “called the question” closing debate and bringing his motion to a vote. It was defeated 3-2 with Lindsay and Tom Bock in favor with Jonynas, Suursoo and DiBenedetti voting against.

Asked if this was the end of the solar farm proposal, DiBenedetti said, “The door is closed now, but if somebody pushes it open with a bag of money … ”

AT&T cell tower future in question

S uursoo addressed an offer from a firm claiming to represent AT&T and offering to help the town reduce the rent it charges AT&T on the cell tower at the Pinnacle. The inducement for participating, the board contended, is the implied threat that AT&T could build a tower elsewhere and walk away from the Chester tower, causing the town to lose its $6,000 a year  in rent. The proposal would reduce the rent to $5,200. It would also increase the bandwidth available to AT&T and eliminate the clause in the existing contract that mandates that the company take down all of its equipment if and when it leaves the site.

The board felt that phasing out a tower was unlikely and passed a motion to reaffirm the existing contract. Pisha was asked to call the company and tell them no.

Pot dispensary for Chester?

At the Vermont League of Cities and Towns “Town Fair” the need to have specific wording in zoning regulations to preclude the opening of a marijuana dispensary was discussed, Suursoo said. And while he said he did not have any feelings one way or the other, Suursoo thought the board should discuss it.  Member Tom Bock – also chair of the planning commission – suggested that whatever the board’s feelings, it was simpler to prohibit it, then leave the option to soften the regulations if that seems what the town wants.

Arne Jonynas pointed out that medical marijuana is now a state law: “I have a problem with denying people access to their medicine whatever it is.” It was pointed out that there will only be four dispensaries in the state and Bock suggested that the board table the discussion and forget about it since he could not imagine that anyone would want to put a dispensary in Chester.

Health care, budget concerns and new water & sewer rates

Town manager Pisha noted that he had signed the contract with Suzanne Swanson of IPG Employee Benefits to be the broker for town employee health insurance. He pointed out that the problems with the program’s website had been frustrating and that he was concerned that if the problems were not resolved, town employees might not have healthcare on Jan. 1. Suursoo said he believed that was unlikely saying, “The bottom line is our employees won’t be without insurance.”

“If I have a heart attack on Jan. 2,snapped Pisha, “Blue Cross can say ‘adios, amigo.’”

“Let’s not be alarmist,” Suursoo replied.

In other action, DeBenedetti announced that the board would begin the budget process with its next meeting, suggesting that particular scrutiny would be given to the Springfield Regional Development Corp., the Whiting Library, the Recreation Department  and insurances and legal fees for enforcement of ordinances. The last topic set off a discussion of violations of the sign ordinance.  The board agreed that there has to be stronger enforcement for the many violations, but did not agree on how to go about it or how much to spend on it.

David Pisha announced that he would be meeting with Naomi Johnson, who sits on the planning commission and also works for the engineering firm Dufrense Group, to work on new water and sewer rates.

And lastly, the Vermont Transportation Board is looking for public comment on transportation problems. If you would like to look at the issues and comment you can do so at

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