Board member’s answer to wind project zoning question spurs debate; capital budget proposed

By Cynthia Prairie
©2015-Telegraph Publishing LLC

Grafton residents squeeze into elementary school seats at Monday night's meeting. Photos by Cynthia Prairie.

Grafton residents squeeze into elementary school seats at Monday night’s meeting. Photos by Cynthia Prairie.

About 15 Grafton residents squeezed into the Grafton Elementary School Library then folded themselves into teeny chairs for the Monday night meeting of the Grafton Select Board. The Select Board then proceeded to squeeze a long agenda into less than an hour, before going into executive session on a personnel matter.

The board concentrated early discussion on removing dangerous trees from the village park and on Kidder Hill Road. Roads Foreman Danny Taylor suggested that the town hire a tree expert to take down a pine and a maple tree on Kidder Hill Road. “For the town to do it, we’re going to cause a lot more damage than a professional, “ he said. “The pine looks like it could go at any time,” said board member Gus Plummer, who will look into getting at least the pine removed before winter.

Plummer is also addressing the problem of dead trees in the Village Park. Expressing a concern about aesthetics, board Chair Sam Battaglino said he would like to keep the park “somewhat in tact” by removing just the dead trees and not allowing logging.  

An answer spurs questions

But the bulk of the discussion centered on a long draft answer to Question 2 posed by members of the community to the board concerning zoning and the wind project proposed by Meadowsend Timberlands and Iberdrola Renewables. In short, the question is: How does “zoning” a affect or not affect the wind project proposed for the Towns of Grafton and Windham? Click here for a link to the questions.

The answer, proposed by Select Board member Ron Pilette, began: The short answer is that regulations regarding zoning will play no role in the decision making process concerning the MTL-Iberdrola idustrial wind proposal. However, the submitted question has a long preamble which strongly implies that, as there is no zoning, any development is permissible since the property owners have the right to do what they wish.

From left, board members Skip Lisle, Gus Plummer, Ron Pilette, Sam Battaglino and Noralee Hall and Town Administrator Rachel Williams.

From left, board members Skip Lisle, Gus Plummer, Ron Pilette, Sam Battaglino and Noralee Hall and Town Administrator Rachel Williams.

Some members of the audience felt that the remaining three paragraphs were an opinion piece, one even calling it “a long-winded editorial.” In part it says, “Though opposition cannot be stated in terms of calling attention to violation of zoning ordinances, individuals and the towns affected have every right to voice the strongest objection and to organize opposition to the proposed project including point out the numerous proposed drawbacks.”

Pilette defended his work, saying, “I wrote this this way after talking with several members of the public who said that they felt that because zoning doesn’t apply they could not voice their opinion.” But others said that board members should remain neutral since they all had the bully pulpit of office.

Board member Skip Lisle said he had no problem with the answer as worded but Gus Plummer said that most of it was Pilette’s opinion while the first part was acceptable. You can read Pilette’s proposed answer by clicking here.

Town clerk Kimberly Record said that the issue that the questioner posed was about zoning, not the wind project. And other raised questions about the facts that were posed in Pilette’s answer such as “If constructed the project would be the largest industrial wind operation in Vermont” and “Most wind turbines will be near the boundaries of the project property.”

Pilette said he knew most of the turbines would be placed near the boundary lines because “I’ve walked the property, and looked at the site. It’s long and narrow with power lines in the middle and they aren’t going to build near power lines.”

Liisa Kissel added that Iberdrola filed for a “96.9 megawatts or less” project, which would indeed make it the largest in the state.

Pilette said the answer could be elaborated on or thrown out but that more information from the project developers will come out Monday. From 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26, Meadowsend and Iberdrola will host an informational meeting at Grafton Elementary School that will include a project update and preliminary draft study layout.

Proposed capital budget $5,000 above last year

The board also looked over capital budget requests that suggested adding a $5,000 line item in the 2016-2017 budget for scraping and painting bridges – there are 26 within the town. Click here for the requests.

Other items requested for fiscal 2016 are $10,000 for the highway road program; $100,000 for the equipment reserve; $4,000 for the guard rail reserve; $15,000 for the fire truck reserve and $10,000 for Town Hall repairs. Record suggested that half of the Town Hall repair fund could be saved by asking the Grafton Improvement Association for a donation.

Projects that are to be completed include reconstruction of Chester Road near Ellsworth Road; culverts at Fisher Hill, Bell and Hinkley Brook roads and Route 121 repaving and culvert work.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has 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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