A dustup in Grafton: Select Board chair, Treasurer spar on proposed wind panel

By Cynthia Prairie
©2015 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A cold wind blew through the Grafton Select Board meeting Monday night, generating electricity between two elected officials: the Select Board chair and the town Treasurer.

Grafton Treasurer Kim Record proposed creating a subcommittee to research financial benefits and proposals to present to the Iberdrola wind energy company in the event that town voters approved the project. Iberdrola told The Telegraph in late November that it would not build in Grafton if town voters rejected the project.

But the reaction from board chair Sam Battaglino to Record’s suggestion blew some in the audience, including Record herself, away.

The good news first and then …

But this followed good news that Efficiency Vermont would be reimbursing the town $4,500 for the cost of the new town garage because of its energy efficient construction and lighting, and that construction of the new salt shed came in under earlier estimates by $24,000.

The Select Board also opened bids to demolition a home at 898 Route 121 East. The bids were: Taylor Excavating: $9,950; Jamie Gregory: $9,500; Dalton Cenate: $16,000 and Ivor Stevens: $14,900. The Select Board will hold a special meeting at 4:15 Wednesday, Dec. 9 at Town Hall, 117 Main St., to decide on the bids.

But it was the discussion about forming a subcommittee to try to find “the best financial deal for the town,” as Treasurer Record put it, that grabbed the attention of board chair Battaglino, and not in a good way.

Record said that she had begun forming a panel with the idea that if the town voted to allow Iberdrola to build eight wind towers on property in Grafton, the town would be prepared to “get the best financial deal” it possibly could. She added, “There’s not a lot of time after the vote to get the package together.”

Treasurer Kim Record has begun forming a panel with the idea that if the town voted to allow Iberdrola to build eight wind towers on Grafton property, the town would be prepared to ‘get the best financial deal’ it possibly could. 

Record said that the committee would start working in January, meeting about once a month. Besides Record, Hardy Merrill; Cynthia Gibbs, the assistant treasurer; Don Dougal of the Grafton Improvement Association; Ginger Ludeman and capital budget committee member Linda Robertson would sit on the committee. Record said she was also looking for a Select Board member to join as well, and had asked Ron Pilette, who said he was too busy.  Although neither Pilette nor board member Gus Plummer were in attendance, a quorum was still formed.

But Battaglino, who kept referring to the committee as “Ron’s committee,” said, “My opinion is that we don’t need it … you don’t have the time. I’ve looked at your schedule.”

Record responded, “I felt that we should not rush through the situation without the research.” The committee, she added, was all her idea and that Pilette had nothing to do with it.

But Battaglino said that as elected officials, “I think it’s the Select Board’s charge to make these decisions. And I don’t think we have the expertise.”

Record, who is also an elected official, pointed out that most members of her committee had strong financial backgrounds and intended to do a lot of research that would include talking to other towns who have experienced the wind industry coming into their communities. She added that she intended to have an attorney vet any proposals they come up with.

She then said, “I don’t think I need the Select Board’s permission” to form a committee.

Battaglino responded that the Select Board would “welcome the information you gather.” But he added that he believed that Iberdrola had already laid its cards on the table and there was nothing else to ask for. “Iberdrola said it would be the maximum dollar amount from the generation from the eight wind towers. We’re at the top of the scale,” he said.

Iberdrola has suggested that it would give both Grafton and Windham, where 20 towers could be place, community benefits packages. They would likely consist of an annual payment to each town based on the number of turbines each hosted. Early estimates are $285,000 to Grafton and $715,000 to Windham. In an interview with The Telegraph in late November, Paul Copleman, communications manager for Iberdrola, said, “The package is open for discussion. It will be commensurate with and proportionate to other projects (in Vermont) and their sizes.”

Record then said, “This is why I am researching. The Grafton Select Board has chosen not to research this issue.”

Select Board chair Sam Battaglino told Record that the board would ‘welcome the information you gather.’  … But later seemed to change his mind saying, ‘I think the Select Board should be in charge of gathering information.’

One audience member defended Record, saying, “Kim is an elected official just like the Select Board is. Her responsibility is the financial health of the community. From this side of the table, it isn’t sounding like you are giving her respect.”

Record then agreed with Battaglino that any negotiations with Iberdrola would be up to the Select Board.

At that point, Battaglino seemed to change his mind and said, “I think the Select Board should be in charge of gathering information. No committee. … I’m proposing that Ron’s committee be dissolved.”

Board member Noralee Hall injected, “There’s nothing to dissolve. Kim wants to have a committee. That’s fine.”

Another audience member said, “It seems that whatever the Select Board wants to do for research, you should do that and Kim should do it as treasurer as well.”

Since the Select Board did not vote to create a subcommittee, should Record form it, it will be an informal, ad hoc committee that can make non-binding recommendations.

Asked on Tuesday what direction she intends to take, Record said, “I’m not 100 percent sure, but I’m pretty sure I want to move ahead with this. It’s my duty to the town as treasurer.” She added that she has spoken with three committee members who are willing to move ahead.

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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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  1. Jacqueline Taylor Backs says:

    Re: “A dustup in Grafton: Select Board chair, Treasurer spar on proposed wind panel.” http://www.chestertelegraph.org/2015/12/09/a-dustup-in-grafton-select-board-chair-treasurer-spar-on-proposed-wind-panel/

    I have observed similar disrespect toward others by this Select Board chair at other Select Board meetings. I am dumbfounded by his behavior and disrespect, often replaying portions of the video just to verify what I thought I heard!

    The Town Treasurer’s request for a member of the Select Board to sit on a panel she created to research ‘the best financial deal for the town’ (should the proposed wind project become a reality) was rebuffed, rudely.

    If the Select Board has the best interest of the town in mind, why would anyone on the board take exception to this panel? Why would not one member of the Select Board avail themselves to sit on this panel? If the wind project is deemed feasible by Iberdrola, it is prudent to prepare and research sooner than later, in the event the voters decide they want this wind project to proceed. 2017 will arrive quickly. Thank you for your forward thinking, Kim Record.

    As a landowner in Grafton, I have interacted with Kim Record over the years. She has always been thorough, thoughtful and respectful. She places what is in the best interest of the Town of Grafton first and foremost. Her professionalism is beyond reproach. She is efficient and fair-minded. Shame on the Select Board chair for his response to her request and his blatant disrespect to her and the office she holds.

    I am a native Vermonter. My parents bought the Jennison Farm, in Grafton in 1951. Though I’ve lived away for many years, I consider Grafton my hometown. I return to Grafton for annual visits and still know many of the old-timers, though this list gets shorter as the years pass.

    The value of the long-standing friendships between us, due to our combined families’ history in Grafton, is priceless. You don’t have to look back any further than Irene to recognize unity among the townspeople. That crisis brought out the best of the best, both newcomers and old-timers.

    I’ve seen the townspeople divided over various issues over the years, but do not recall any issue as contentious as the proposed wind project.

    I question if it is the project or the players. Some residents view the anti-wind camp as having the NIMBY mentality. Sometimes, when one is committed to one side or another, the information that is disseminated by either side can be skewed. Just give me the facts, folks!

    I welcome the process by Iberdrola to carry out its study. I want transparency, information, facts. Once the study is complete, if Iberdrola deems the project feasible, the registered voters of Grafton will decide. Seems reasonable and fair.

    In June 2015, my husband and I attended an informational meeting at the Grafton Ponds hosted by Meadowsend Timberlands, the owner ot the land proposed for the project.

    At this meeting, I learned a lot about the proposed wind project. I also observed some of the townspeople and their interaction with one another at this meeting. Some, I believe, were there to be heard, rather than to learn anything new or share anything new.

    They have a right to take a stand against the proposed wind project, to voice their opinion, to ask questions. However, some questions had already been answered during the informational part of the program, if one was paying attention. Perhaps they missed the responses due to their chatter among themselves or perhaps they didn’t get the desired response.

    On a more positive note, people questioned how the proposed wind project may impact the community environmentally, financially and visually and what local employment opportunities might arise if this project is feasible.

    Some answers weren’t available at that time, too early in this phase of the study, but the audience was assured the answers would be forthcoming, and some have been addressed since.

    I expect Iberdrola and Meadowsend will continue to keep the residents informed when the facts become available. This is the study phase. Is this wind project feasible at the proposed site? If so, will the registered voters want this? I’ve observed no force feeding from their camp. Can the same be said for the anti-wind camp?

    Some Select Board members are anti-wind. That’s fine. But, here’s a dose of reality for them. The perception that “If you aren’t with us, you are against us,” is false. If I am ‘pro-information,’ ‘pro- process,’ that doesn’t mean I am pro wind. Let the facts unfold.

    The Select Board is not a bully pulpit, and board members should not be allowed to force an agenda upon the town’s citizens or to shut down discussions that do not align with that agenda. Any selectman who cannot separate his role as a citizen and his role as a selectman is not properly serving the town. Step down or be voted out.

    Grafton residents who can’t make it to the Select Board meetings, I encourage you to stay informed by watching the videos of the Select Board meetings on Fact TV. Warning: Expect the worst if the topic is related to wind.

    Last, but not least, recently I drove through Grafton to visit my parent’s grave at Houghtonville Cemetery. I saw the anti-wind signs. What an eyesore on an otherwise beautiful drive through Cambridgeport, the village of Grafton and Houghtonville. Those signs do little to serve the community. They detract from the beauty and welcoming image of the village, displaying instead, a town divided.