4th public-private solar proposal aired; economic development plan suggested; Missing Link Bridge in question

By Shawn Cunningham

During its April 3 meeting, the Chester Select Board heard from a fourth company proposing to put a solar farm on town land on Route 103N across from Trebo Road, discussed a four-page economic development plan for the town and considered not replacing Missing Link Bridge, this following 20 minutes of correcting grammar, spelling, punctuation and shorthand comments in the minutes of a previous meeting.

4th solar firm presents

Luke Schullenberger of GreenLantern Capital based in Waterbury gave an overview of the 500 kilowatt solar farm that his organization is proposing.  As it searches for a private firm to partner with in a solar venture, the Select Board has heard from several other companies. You can read about those proposals under the subhead 3 vie for private-public solar partnership here.

GreenLantern is proposing  a ground-mounted fixed array that will occupy approximately 5 acres of the 17-acre site. Schullenberger explained how the town will benefit from tax credits in addition to payments from an annual lease of the property to GreenLantern. Greenlantern capital

Currently exempt from property taxes, town land used for such a venture would become taxable for state education taxes, which the town of Chester would have to pay. Shullenberger called the situation “highly negotiable” and suggested that GreenLantern could make a payment in lieu of taxes that would cover the town’s tax liability for the land.

Several members of the Select Board were interested in what local labor and materials would go into the the project. Shullenberger stated that his group would use all Vermont labor including looking to Chester for services like heavy equipment operation. But he said that some of the more specialized labor would be done by workers not from Chester. Likewise almost all of the components for the project – except the panels themselves – are American made.

Shullenberger asked the board to choose from among the proposals soon since permitting a large project like this is likely to take more than six weeks. If chosen, GreenLantern will ask the town to sign a binding letter of intent before spending the $30,000 to $40,000 needed for the permitting process. GreenLantern will pay the town’s legal fees associated with the permitting.

Economic development policy

A four page document outlining goals and funding and implementation of an economic development effort was introduced. Variously referred to as a plan, a vision statement and a policy statement, the document identifies four goals, funding sources and implementation functions. The goals include using “public policy to improve the economic climate,” maintaining infrastructure, maintaining Chester’s “character” and supporting education. You can read the statement here.

Town manager David Pisha

Town manager David Pisha

Select Board member Derek Suursoo noted that the plan needed to be more definite, saying that “the ‘shoulds’ need to be turned into ‘wills.’” Included in this was the idea that a portion of the Capital Development Fund (from which the Town lends money to local businesses to help them make their operations stronger through capital improvements) will be taken for an economic development fund to be spent on activities that will forward the development goals. These include marketing surveys, a new and enhanced website for town government and the work of consultants. These funds would not be repaid to the Capital Development Fund. Under the plan, town manager David Pisha will be responsible for implementing the development functions of the plan.

Bill Dakin and Lynn Reed of the Chester Economic Development Corp., which functions as an advisory board in granting loans from the Capital Development Fund, were asked for their comments. Dakin replied that he had never seen the plan. Copies were provided, and the discussion turned to ways of gathering the input of the CEDC, whose members are local business people. The board was reluctant to come to the CEDC meeting since it thought that would constitute a meeting that the town would have to warn. Dakin said that CEDC meetings are open to the public and all are welcome. The Select Board decided to warn a meeting with the CEDC for 8 a.m. Wednesday May 1 in Town Hall.

Missing the Missing Link Bridge

The question of whether or not to replace the Missing Link Bridge was raised. FEMA has estimated that the cost of replacing the bridge would be $960,000 and offered $450,000 in federal aid. According to Pisha, Naomi Johnson, of Dufresne Engineering and a member of Chester’s Planning Commission, estimated the cost of replacing the bridge at $675,000, reducing the portion that the town would have to raise to $225,000. While the board noted that grants administrator Julie Hance had suggested that a “large structures” grant could reduce the town’s portion to $20,000 to $30,000, discussion turned to the option of not replacing the bridge and instead using the FEMA funds for other town uses. Such uses would have to benefit the entire town and the example of road equipment was given.

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