Chester Select Board considers reviving solar farm proposal


By Shawn Cunningham

After closing the door on a solar project on town land in a 3-2 vote at a previous meeting, the Chester Select Board re-opened the topic for further discussion last Wednesday night, Nov.6.

Board member Bill Lindsay, who moved to accept the terms set out by project developer Green Lantern  at the Oct. 23 meeting, asked that the board reconsider based on a memo from town manager David Pisha.  After the last select board meeting on Oct. 23, Pisha contacted Luke Schullenberger of Green Lantern noting that the board might be interested if there was additional income for the town.

According to Pisha, Schullenberger responded with $500 more in rent and added $1,000 to the payment in lieu of taxes – or PILOT. Schullenberger also said, according  to Pisha, that the real benefits are on the back end when the town could buy the project from Green Lantern.

Board chairman John DeBenedetti noted that as late as that afternoon — Nov. 6 — Schullenberger had called to offer to attend that night’s meeting. Not wanting to have “ex parte” communications, DeBenedetti said that he had hung up on the conversation. He pointed out once again that he did not want to pursue the project as long as there was a “floor” — a minimum that the town will pay for its power.

Julie Pollard shows the Chester Select Board the certificate the Winter Carnival received naming it one of the Top 10 Winter Events in Vermont.

Julie Pollard shows the Chester Select Board the certificate the Winter Carnival received naming it one of the Top 10 Winter Events in Vermont.
Photo by Shawn Cunningham.

DeBenedetti also wondered if the town could put up its own solar farm and reap all the benefits. Lindsay responded that he is against owning the plant, that the technology is new and that he  does “not want to be a power broker.”

Board member Arne Jonynas thought that going ahead with the project “gives us seven years to see if we want to purchase” the solar farm. If construction prices are going down rapidly, Jonynas said, that would justify negotiating for a lower purchase price.

Having heard from a lot of  people since the Oct. 23 vote, Jonynas said he has reconsidered. “I’m for going back and re-investigating this.” As to the floor price, Jonynas said, “I’m OK with that too.”

The board also decided to call Bob Flint of the Springfield Regional Economic Development Corp. to ask him to contact a solar energy consultant who could analyze the deal and tell the town whether it is worth doing. The board also decided to call a special meeting on the issue to move it forward before the end of the year.

Chester Winter Carnival set

Also last Wednesday, the board approved use of town land for the 2014 Chester Winter Carnival. Julie and Bob Pollard of Chester Hardware came before the board with the request, and announced that for the third year, the Chester Winter Carnival has been named by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce to be among the Top 10 winter events in the state. The Pollards requested the use of Cobleigh Field and the Pinnacle for Feb. 15 and 16, use of the Green on Feb. 15 for snow sculptures (if there is enough snow) and the reservoir on Feb. 16 for an ice-cutting demonstration. The Pollards are also planning dog sled rides, broom hockey, disc golf, a scavenger hunt, ice skating, a bonfire and a poker run by the Chester Snowmobile Club.

Historical society seeks $15,000, could come from economic development fund

Ron Patch, of the Chester Historical Society, asked the town to put up $15,000 for a 250th anniversary celebration of Chester’s founding, which he said is 2016. He said that his organization has been raising money for a memorial to Congressional Medal of Honor winner and World War II Gen. Merritt Edson, and has no money for events. The board was generally positive, but asked for a more detailed budget. Derek Suursoo said, “I’m willing to go for this to bring business to town and willing to take it out of economic development.” The economic development fund was created to lend money to local businesses to upgrade or improve.

Bill Lindsay noted that setting aside $5,000 per year in the budget would put the desired amount in place by the time it would need to be spent, but he noted that people need answers for where the money is being spent and asked for a general budget for the event.

Patch said that about $7,000 would go to pay for 300 re-enactors of the French and Indian War  and Revolutionary War eras to come and camp in town on the Labor Day weekend. Patch also asked for the use of the Green for vendors of traditional crafts (potters, leather workers etc.) to sell their wares and demonstrate.

Board member Tom Bock asked if any events would showcase anything later and other than these wars. Patch said that any organization, business or individual could offer ideas and put on an event.

Patch said that while 1761 is the date on all town signs, he remembers that the bicentennial was held when he was a child in 1966 so that the date of the founding of Chester is 1766. Patch also asked if there was a possibility that the signs welcoming motorists to town could be changed to reflect the later date. What’s the founding date of Chester? Here’s an explainer.

New town website and an unmarked cruiser

The board asked Kyle Rogstad to speak on the status of the new website the town contracted his company to build in July. Rogstad said that the development site was up and running and “pretty much good to go” although the town needs to apply for a domain name that ends in “dot gov.” He added that there are six or seven of 50 businesses — of more than 100 in Chester — that he expects to have on the site. Rogstad said that the site is temporarily located at

Next, the board turned to next year’s budget, beginning the process by reviewing the financial performance of this year and the expected changes for next year. After the review, Suursoo suggested that the board hear from department heads at a meeting to see what their goals are and if those goals are being met.

Under new business, Bock said that he had been approached by people asking if the town had an unmarked police car.  He had told them that the town had replaced a cruiser and was waiting for the markings and light bar. But then he found out that in fact the town does indeed have an unmarked car. “That’s something new in the town of Chester,” Bock said.

According to Pisha, the new SUV has hidden lights and no markings so it can be used by Matt Wilson in his capacity as a detective.

“I gotta tell you,” responded Suursoo, “I’m having a problem … When I said go ahead and buy the cruiser,  what was in my head was that I was buying a replacement patrol vehicle to maintain the fleet of three … Now we’re down to two plus this one that is a specialized vehicle.”

“I don’t see a town this size needing an unmarked car,” noted Jonynas, a former police officer. “I don’t get the advantage of running an unmarked car.” He also asked what the law in Vermont was regarding having to stop for a police car that is not marked. Bock questioned the effect of an unmarked car saying that if the car is not visible it’s “not a deterrent to crime.”

Asking how much detective work is being done in Chester, Suursoo wondered why the town would buy a large SUV for a special use vehicle.

“We should have had this discussion in the beginning,” said Jonynas.

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  1. Lynne says:

    Re-enactments are an event worthy of attending. I have seen many and have always enjoyed them. However, I question whether our economic development dollars are being best spent by investing in a singular event. It seems as if there are so many more permanent areas where our dollars could go to boost our economic health. For instance, The Yosemite Firehouse which is under the Historical Society’s control is in serious need of refurbishment. This is a permanent structure which draws countless people to our area to paint and photograph it and it is in serious jeopardy much like the crumbling, abused, and subsequently neglected Jeffrey Barn. Shall we watch these historical structures perish while we enjoy our weekend re-enactment? I think not. Chester needs to get serious about Economic Development and start looking at the decay along the most traveled routes of our town. And then fix it.