Grafton board hopefuls offer two views of government, wind project

Grafton residents sit quietly to listen to the candidates at Thursday night's forum. Photos by Shawn Cunningham.

Grafton residents sit quietly to listen to the candidates at Thursday night’s forum. Photos by Shawn Cunningham.

By Cynthia Prairie
©2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A storm front was moving in.

A storm front was moving in.

In what was promising to be a stormy Thursday night – at least outside – about 75 people gathered at the White Church in Grafton to hear from two candidates who hope to be elected to fill the unexpired term left by Gus Plummer’s resignation in mid-May. That term is up in March 2017.

A special election will be held on from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 12 at Town Hall, 117 Main St.

Government works

Candidates John Turner, a long-time educator and former principal at Grafton Elementary, and Don Dougall, who has sat on numerous town boards and may be best known for his work with the Grafton Improvement Association, flanked moderator David Ross on the altar. To keep the forum moving, Ross had laid out strict time limits and guidelines for both the candidates and the audience as well.

This small sign greets all visitors as they enter the church.

This small sign greets all visitors as they enter the church.

While a number of issues were touched upon, the bulk of the discussion centered on the Iberdrola industrial wind project proposed for Windham and Grafton. Dougall is for the wind project; Turner has said that at first he was for it but has changed his mind.

Right out of the gate, Dougall alluded to that and said that many things that have to be done to run the town have been ignored by the board. To remedy that he suggested that if elected he would offer three motions: 1. that the Select Board officially designate the Tuesday, Nov. 8 Election Day as the day to vote on the Atlantic Wind/Iberdrola wind project. 2. that the town hire attorney Richard Saudek to “hammer out a proposal” with the town and Iberdrola, focusing on stormwater runoff as “probably the biggest thing” the town would face should the project go through. And 3. set up an escrow account to pay the attorney and baseline studies to make sure that the town does not bear the financial burden.  Iberdrola has said that it would abide by a vote of taken by those in Windham and Grafton.

Moderator and candidates

Flanking moderator David Ross are candidates John Turner, left, and Don Dougall.

Earlier discussions have suggested that that escrow account would be paid in by Iberdrola but managed by an independent entity with Select Board approval.

Turner told the audience that he has a strong background in conflict resolution and “working with people” who are having trouble moving a project forward. He then said that information for the wind project “in not fully there or clear.” He suggested polling the community to assess whether there is enough support for the wind project to move to the next step. He also said that two or three lawyers would then need to be interviewed, instead of just deciding on one now. Turner also said he was most concerned that the public be involved in the entire process since it is the public’s call.

Kent Armstrong poses to ask the candidates a question.

Kent Armstrong poses to ask the candidates a question.

Resident Kent Armstrong asked both candidates how long each had lived in Grafton and what town jobs they had held. Dougall said he is entering his 10th year in Grafton and has been involved in the Grafton Fund, the Grafton Library, to which he has donated “valuable things … and money,” the Music Festival, the Grafton Improvement Association, which he called “one of my proudest accomplishments.” He also is chair of the town Capital Budget Committee.

Turner has lived in Grafton since 2012, after agreeing to become principal at the elementary school. He said what was supposed to be a one-year interim position turned into three. During that time, he said, he didn’t “feel it was my place to get involved in town politics … my job was … educating town kids.” Upon retiring, he became secretary of the Grafton Fire Department and is currently renovating his home. He added that he had considered running for office last March.

Moderator David Ross.

Moderator David Ross.

Dave Culver asked whether the town budget was heading in the right direction. Turner suggested that roads and bridges needed repair and funding those infrastructure projects could come from grants.

Dougall said that road and bridge repair is primarily funded through outside funds, grants that are already applied for. He added that the capital budget takes into account the unforeseen possibilities by keeping a reserve fund that can be used to ease eligibility requirements when applying for those state grants.

The audience.

The audience.

Danny Michaelson addressed the Windham Foundation’s place in Grafton and Dougall’s “past behavior with the (it) including giving the finger” to executive director Bob Allen, who left July 1 to take over Green Mountain College. Dougall acknowledged that relations with the foundation have been “frosty” under Allen, and that he did indeed “give him the bird and I’d do it again in a minute.” But he said that now was the time for the Select Board to move forward with a better relationship with the foundation.

Turner on the other hand said that the town’s relationship with the Windham Foundation “is very important … I embrace working with the foundation.”

Both candidates agreed that Grafton’s lack of zoning was fine with them. “If we had zoning, I might be in violation of it,” said Turner. Dougall said, “I know that if someone wants to pull a doublewide next door and raise hogs, I’ll just have to live with that.”

On to wind project, disunity

Town Clerk and Grafton resident Kim Record poses a question.

Town Clerk and Grafton resident Kim Record poses a question.

Town Clerk Kim Record asked if Iberdrola had just come to town and both men were on the Select Board, what each believed the board’s involvement should be.

Dougall said he believed that the latest boards had “way overstepped” its involvement in the wind issue since the only people to have a say are town voters. He said the board “can expedite, can assist, can help,” but it won’t be making the decision. He also criticized a suggestion by current Select Board member Ron Pilette, made at Tuesday’s meeting, that it set up “little committees” to look into the wind project and disseminate the information to the townspeople, saying, “How fair do you think the report coming from Ron or from (member) Skip (Lisle) is going to be?” Both Pilette and Lisle have expressed strong opposition to the wind project. Dougall then suggested that the Select Board “back off” and let individuals gather their own information.

Don Dougall responds to a question.

Don Dougall responds to a question.

Turner responded, “Frankly, I couldn’t disagree more.” Addressing the audience he said, “I know you all are busy. If it (Dougall’s idea) could have worked, it already would have. … I have been studying the wind industry vigorously for a couple of years and it is so deep and so thick, for all of you to go out and do that work redundantly and then go talk to your neighbor is not” how to get the best information.

The discussion also touched on whether the town should hire an attorney to negotiate now or following the Nov. 8 vote. Turner believes that the town should wait until after the vote to begin negotiations with Iberdrola since it is not known whether the voters even back the project. Dougall said that the only entity that can hire the attorney is the Select Board, not the voters. “This is the only time we have leverage with Iberdrola,” he said. He added, “Why would they give us anything” following the vote when they know that we are for it?

John Turner speaks to the audience.

John Turner speaks to the audience.

Another resident addressed the stark divisions in Grafton caused by the wind issue and asked each candidate what he would do to re-unite the town. Turner said, “Bringing people together is what I did for 40 years, solving problems, charting courses … for a better community. … I’ll support the people who want (the wind project) and those who don’t. We are a community first.” Wind companies have a history of dividing people, he added, so that residents are focused on each other instead of gathering information about the wind project.

Dougall said, “I’m not sure all the divisions … can be solved or healed. When you look at some of the character assassinations, the insults, all the things that have been traded over the last months, I think it will be hard for people to say I’m sorry, I forgive you, either way.” He added that as an active manager of a company for 30 years, he negotiated for the best deals he could get for his company.

Dougall becomes focus

Kate Muelrath questions Dougall on response to concerns.

Kate Muelrath questions Dougall on response to concerns.

Carol Lind was one of three women to criticize Dougall’s responses to their concerns about the wind project. Lind focused on Dougall’s reaction “over several conversations” to her concerns over possible environmental damage, flood risks and health impact from the project, contending that he dismissed her by “laughing and joking.”

“So how am I and other community members supposed to feel … confident having you represent us on this issue or any others?” she asked. “I think I was being facetious,” he responded, adding that the health issue, while it is “certainly there” it seems to be anecdotal. He continued, “There’s no doubt in my mind that there are individuals who are affected by … windmills.”

As far as erosion and water control, Dougall added that he was very concerned with those issues but believed the town would be in a “much safer place if the wind goes through” since there is no erosion control on the Stiles Brook Forest land now but a good contract with Iberdrola could add those conditions and the town could “count on a better environment than we have even now.” He also said the property had been “pretty much worked over” by logging for many years.

Turner calls one of Dougall's responses 'callous.'

Turner calls one of Dougall’s responses ‘callous.’

Kate Muelrath then stood to ask Dougall about a comment he made when asked about the many residents living close to the proposed wind project. Muelrath said Dougall responded, “They can move,” a comment that she characterized as “very callous.”

Again, Dougall responded that he was “being facetious.” “People who live close to the windmills I think if you’re family was beset with some difficulties (from the wind project) and you could make a case that this was so … ‘illmaking’ you would hire an attorney to take your case to the court and if you won that you would have the money to do whatever you needed to do.”

He added that poor people could afford an attorney by hiring a “personal injury attorney … you see their ads all the time.” He added that those attorneys take cases on a contingency basis so that if a client wins, they collect.

Turner paused before responding, “Wow. Very cavalier. … I count 20 houses between three-quarters of a mile and a mile and quarter … these people are going to suffer … for me to think that the kids that I taught that live in these homes … that their resolution is to go out and find a lawyer … that we don’t have any compassion for them, I cannot go there. This project needs to be redesigned. … it is too big and too close for this community. There is sensible wind. This project puts too many people in harm’s way.”

Dougall suggests families experiencing problems from wind should sue.

Dougall suggests families experiencing problems from wind should sue.

About 20 minutes later, Lucia Corwin told Dougall that during some Select Board meetings, “you’ve made me feel disrespected, demeaned and the object of derision for having an opinion different from yours. What assurances can you give that this same behavior won’t be repeated if you are a board member?”

“I don’t give you any assurances. I am who I am,” said Dougall. “Am I rude? Yes. Am I crass sometimes? You bet.” He then suggested that those who did not like that should not vote for him.

After 90 minutes, the meeting finally wound down as the clouds closed in overhead. Ross thanked both Turner and Dougall with their willingness to serve the community, and the meeting slowly dispersed.

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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. Carol Lind says:

    Luann, thank you for educating Don. It is sad to think that someone running for public service would care so little for his neighbors.

    Don, your information about the Stiles Brook Forest was inaccurate. 1. The Stiles Brook Forest is currently one of the best bear habitats in Southern Vermont, contain large bear scarred beech trees. 2. Even the Iberdrola hydrologists stated that they would only mediate for the impervious surfaces they create, not attempt to improve the flood resiliency of the watershed.

  2. Wow, Dougall has absolutely no idea what he is talking about when it comes to people who are negatively impacted by Industrial Wind.

    Most of you know we abandoned our home in Sheffield, we still suffer health issues due to residing in too close proximity of the 16 turbine power plant. We tried to find a lawyer who would take the case pro bono and we failed miserably. Lawyers do not want to touch this problem. Paul Brouha of Sutton has a nuisance lawsuit in progress, after spending a small fortune he still hasn’t gotten anywhere.

    PSB tells him to sue, they go to Court and they are told it is a problem to take it up with the PSB. NO ONE WANTS TO GET INVOLVED.

    So far there is ZERO recourse for neighbors who are negatively impacted. Along with health issues there is also the reduction of property value.

    As a native Vermonter I am appalled that a person seeking election in this State would even come out with ‘if you don’t like it, sue’ There was a day Vermonters could count on their neighbors and make deals with a handshake and a smile without the fear that the person they were dealing with were snake oil salesmen.

    There was also a time when folks sought being elected as a way to protect their neighbors and not have such a callous attitude.