Editorial: Ill winds in Grafton and no end in sight

By Cynthia Prairie
©2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Grafton may have already lost. Even before the voters cast one ballot on the Iberdrola wind project, the town is torn apart. Incivility reigns.

Ill WindsAll it took was the prospect of this industrial wind project for community members to lose sight of the characteristics that have made Grafton a desirable home. There seems to be no middle road in industrial wind farm discussion. It quickly becomes us vs. them: flatlanders vs. woodchucks; privileged vs. workers; anti-wind vs. pro-process; pro-people vs. pro-wind.

Of course, no one fits into any one category. People from all sides of the issue have myriad views and are from all walks of life. No one can be painted with a single brush and just about everyone has valid issues to air. But no one is listening.

If you haven’t heard: The Iberdrola proposal would put 28 500-foot tall turbines on 5,000 acres owned by Meadowsend Timberlands. Eight would be built in Grafton, with about 680 full-time residents, and 20 would be built in Windham, which has a full-time population of slightly over 400. It would be the biggest wind project in the state of Vermont.

In Grafton, the arguments have devolved into one continuous petty game of one-upsmanship, where no insult and insinuation is too small to hurl and no perceived slight is too insignificant to take offense.

Select Board meetings have turned into criticism and accusation sessions.

But Grafton is hardly unique in the level of venom, hatred and distrust among once cordial neighbors. This pattern seems to follow industrial wind proposals throughout the world — from Hawaii to Canada, Scotland to New Zealand. Just Google “wind project divides community” and see what pops up from legitimate media.

While the project has been in the works for at least four years, who really knows when the town began to see its fabric being shredded and by whom. Yet over the past two years, as Iberdrola has grown more impatient to get its project on line, the level of invective has risen: lies have been told, insults and slurs have been thrown and threats have been made.  And from what I have observed, no one is left unscathed and no group is blameless.

Iberdrola seems happy to add fuel to the fire, as evidenced in spokesman Art Sasse’s recent response to the Windham Select Board’s decision to ask it to vacate its plans. He sounded more like a self-righteous crusader than a businessman who wanted to ensure that his company was doing everything it could to come into a community without causing harm. He failed to even acknowledge that the Windham Town Plan prohibits industrial wind.  But then again, the financial stakes are high for his company. Divide and conquer and all that.  Like most large corporations, it cares about one thing, and that is the bottom line.

The current divisions in Grafton have made it virtually impossible to get anything done on the Town Plan, on hiring a lawyer, on forming an exploratory committee, all of which could help Grafton navigate these dangerous waters that could actually lead to clarity.

It’s time for members of the Select Board to put aside their personal feelings, the hurt, the bitterness and the anger and act like leaders who are working together to represent the entire town.

Maybe, just maybe, if you are willing to try to hammer out solutions and come to compromises, the rest of the town will follow. Otherwise, whether the project is built or whether it isn’t, Grafton will have indeed lost.

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Filed Under: CommentaryTelegraph Editorial

About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia 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, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Jacqueline Backs says:

    Again, thank you Cynthia for your commentary and coverage of the Grafton SB meetings.

    The last meeting was not broadcast on Fact8TV, and this week’s is not up online yet, so I am not as current as I like to be. But, as a Grafton landowner and observer, I have grown weary of much of this and agree with much of your commentary.

    I’d also like to comment on Kathy Scott’s comment above as one of the more clear and concise responses to this issue. I don’t know Kathy, but her level headed response leads me to wish I did. Thanks for the continued coverage of the Grafton SB meetings.

  2. Kathy Scott says:

    The turbines, the developer, the landowner, profits and tax breaks are not what is tearing at the fabric of community in Grafton and Windham. An unwillingness to listen respectfully to each other is doing the tearing. There is no moral high ground in this.

    The project proposed is between Iberdrola and Meadowsend. The residents of Grafton and Windham are being afforded the opportunity to weigh in on the proposal, negotiate with the developer, develop a ballot and individually cast their votes, which Iberdrola will abide by.

    If the scale of the project is too big or the decommissioning plan is not acceptable, if the design and mitigation plans for sound and water are not appropriate and the community benefit is not to your liking, you can vote against the project. There is no need for the awful posturing and fear mongering. The Select Boards should do their jobs, negotiate a good ballot in each community and let the voters cast their ballots.

  3. Lucia Corwin says:

    Well presented. Thank you, Skip, for stating that the role of a leader is to protect ALL of us. If we can agree on just that point, the town will be able to heal whatever the results of the project.

  4. anita siano says:

    Totally agree with Skip!

  5. Skip Lisle says:

    First, the proposed industrial wind development, although it’s tearing our towns apart, is a much broader issue than Grafton and Windham.

    For example, people all over Chester, Andover and many other towns will enjoy views of the largest wind turbines in Vermont, and by far the largest wind development in our state.

    Furthermore, all of the massive components and much of the vast amount of required gravel and concrete will be transported through numerous Vermont towns including Winhall, Landgrove, Andover, Rockingham, Chester and Londonderry (and through the villages of the latter two). Other than Grafton and Windham, no other towns are slated to receive a penny from the project.

    Yes, when placed far too close to lots of people, as in Grafton and Windham (and near many Townshend and Jamaica residents), industrial wind developments create a devastating dynamic in a community. Those close to the enormous, mountaintop turbines rightfully fear for their lives and financial security (property value) while their safely cross-town neighbors are more inclined to cheer on the developers in order to receive a minor tax break or other favors.

    As Cynthia noted, this social phenomenon is well-known to the wind industry because it happens everywhere they go. In their pursuit of profit it’s seen as perfectly acceptable collateral damage that they, living far away, won’t have to experience.

    In respect to lost wealth and the health-degrading effects of infrasound, the threat that these turbines present to those who live close to them is real and serious. How does one compromise on that? Should we agree somehow to only sacrifice the lives of 50 people instead of 150? The first responsibility of any leader is to protect their people from harm: All of them.

    Skip Lisle
    Grafton Selectman

  6. Henry Moseley says:

    Well said, Cynthia, thank you for your candor.