Grafton Select Board OKs local input resolution; approves historic preservation plan for Daisy Turner property

By Cynthia Prairie
©2015 Telegraph Publishing LLC

At its Monday, March 16 meeting, the Grafton Select Board approved – with vocal disagreement from some of the attending public – a resolution created by Rutland Town government to attempt to give local jurisdictions a stronger say with the Public Service Board over the siting of renewable energy projects.

The resolution is to be presented to the General Assembly in Montpelier.

The resolution has been sent to communities throughout the state, and thus far 36, including Grafton, have signed on, with similar resolutions created by Charlotte and Middlebury. You can read that document here.

Select Board chair Sam Battaglino advocated backing the resolution, saying, “It’s a letter to encourage the legislature to encourage the PSB to give more of a hearing to villages on solar sitings.”

Liisa Kissel, who also sits on the Grafton Planning Board added, “This isn’t about a particular project. This is about a resolution to go to the state legislature asking them to amend the permitting process at the PSB to give towns more say.”

Birchwood Cabin on the Turner Property. Photo provided by Preservation Trust of Vermont.

Birchwood Cabin on the Turner Property. Photo provided by Preservation Trust of Vermont.

Another audience member suggested tabling the issue until everyone had a chance to read the document.

But Battaglino insisted, saying that the resolution would change the balance of power between the PSB and the towns.

Ron Pillette, who was elected to the Select Board in early March, called it “about as Mom and apple pie as you could ask for.”

Kissel added that the resolution was “about the process, not about renewables.” But several others in the audience complained that that wasn’t the case, and objected when Battaglino brought the issue to a vote.

In the end, the vote was four to one (backing the resolution), with board member Gus Plummer changing his vote from abstain to against.

Preservation of Daisy Turner property; Town Offices now open five days

In other business, the Select Board agreed to send a letter to Preservation Trust of Vermont saying it was supporting PTV’s plan to seek $100,000 in grant money toward a fund to secure the Turner Hill Wildlife Management Area, homestead of the Alec and Sally Turner family, an African-American family who moved to Grafton in 1872. The property, which was called Journey’s End by the escaped slave Alec Turner, was also the home of Daisy Turner, their daughter and a renowned storyteller who died in 1988 at the age of 105. The property is on Vermont’s African-American Heritage Trail.

The plan is for the property, currently owned by the Agency of Natural Resources, to be transferred to the Windham Foundation as a “turnkey” project, said Eric Gilbertson of Preservation Trust. PTV will raise all the money and get the project finished first, before that happens, he said.

Currently on the property is a 20 by 24 foot cabin, known as Birchwood, with a porch on three sides. “There was a bigger house,” Gilbertson said, but it burned down in 1962 in an arson fire.

Gilbertson said that there is a July deadline to raise enough money “to make it happen.” Once PTV cleans up the property and restores the camp, the title of the property would transfer to the Windham Foundation, which would also work with the Grafton Historical Society on this “piece of nationally significant history.” It would be an unstaffed historical site, but interpretive information would be available in starting in the village. The cost of the entire project is about $350,000, Gilbertson said.

And finally, Grafton Town Offices will now be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. five days a week. Offices will no longer be closed on Wednesday.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor for 30 years, having worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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