Grafton group seeks to sway Chester board against wind project

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The July 20 Chester Select Board was a presentation-rich environment, with information on an impending townwide reappraisal and an offer to donate the north shore of the Rainbow Rock swimming hole to the town. The longest, however, was a PowerPoint presentation by opponents of the wind project proposed for the towns of Grafton and Windham that included a visit from a Grafton Select Board member and the Windham Town Clerk.

Carol Lind, at the podium, begins her talk about Iberdrola's wind project while Grafton Select Board member Skip Lisle hands out a map showing distances from wind towers

Carol Lind, at the podium, begins her talk about Iberdrola’s wind project while Grafton Select Board member Skip Lisle hands out a map showing distances from wind towers.

Carol Lind, co-director of Grafton Woodlands Group, made the presentation starting with a list of lawsuits that Iberdrola –the company proposing the development — is involved in. As Grafton Select Board member Skip Lisle, who is anti-wind, handed out a map of the project with circles showing distances from proposed turbines, Lind  described the many adverse impacts her group believes that development will have on Grafton and Windham, including more flooding due to the acres of impermeable surfaces created in building roads and concrete bases for the installations. She also voiced concern over noise, light and vibration questions.

It was not until well into the presentation that Lind said that the main effect that Chester would see was increased traffic of oversize loads bringing in enormous components and heavy construction materials such as concrete. Two routes, opponents say, have been identified by the developer, Iberdrola Renewables. From the west, trucks would use Routes 7 and 11 through Manchester, Bromley, Peru, Landgrove and Londonderry to reach Route 121 and the Town of Windham. From the east, trucks would use I-91 to Route 103 and then Route 11 to 121. These loads would travel through Rockingham, Chester, Andover and Windham.

Lind noted that each of the 28 turbines has three 200-foot long blades that weight 12 tons each, with each blade being one truckload.

In two slides, each titled Transportation Impacts What Can Chester Expect? the group quotes attorney Richard Saudek speaking at the May 5 Grafton Select Board meeting saying that the developers will need “big roads” and have crews that build big roads fast. The group did not explain what roads would need to be to be built in Chester. On the second slide, activist Annette Smith is quoted saying that a wind developer may sue a local jurisdiction over road permits that might be denied.

Several residents of Grafton and Windham came out for the Grafton Woodlands presentation

Several residents of Grafton and Windham came out for the Grafton Woodlands presentation

On a slide called  Impacts on Towns, the group said that roadwork and transporting elements of the turbines would take a year and a half and that “roads must be widened, curves straightened.“ In an interview Tuesday, Craig Keller, chief of Utilities and Permits Unit for VTrans, said that it is routine for minor, temporary changes to be made in roads to accommodate construction projects and that when the project is finished the road is restored. “But anything they want on state highways needs approval,” said Keller. “And where a town has jurisdiction, the town needs to give approval.” The roadway from the Country Girl Diner to Lovers Lane is a Class 1 town highway and therefore under town jurisdiction. To date there have been no discussions between Iberdrola and Vtrans about permits.

Lind asked the board to consider putting a non-binding article on the ballot at Chester’s town meeting in March saying that the town does not want the wind project.

“What’s the timetable on this?” asked board chair John DeBenedetti.

“We’re not really sure,”  said Lind. Iberdrola wants “us to negotiate a project, they’re very manipulative. They want to tell us who can vote.”

“What’s the upside on this?” asked board member Dan Cote, noting that as a safety consultant he has visited many wind installations.

“They make a lot of money from our (federal) subsidies,” said Lind.

“This was on the agenda as an update on the wind project,”  said board member Ben Whalen. “But I haven’t heard an update, I’ve heard every single thing that’s wrong with it. As a select board member I want to hear all aspects of the project.”

Lind suggested that the board do its own research starting with the materials her group has in its headquarters in Grafton. “Look through the research and learn about it,” said Lind. “We feel very negatively about it, having done four years of research.”

Reappraisal on the horizon

Lister Wanda Purdy told the board that she anticipates receiving a letter from the state of Vermont mandating a townwide reappraisal.  The relationship between assessed values and the actual sale prices of property in a town play a crucial role in determining the education tax rates and when statistical measures become weighted too far in one direction or the other state statutes require that the deck is reshuffled.

In Chester’s case a statistical measure called the “coefficient of dispersion” is the culprit. The COD compares the sale prices of similarly assessed properties to gauge the equity of assessment across the town. A COD of 20 percent indicates that there are a number of property owners not paying their fair share of taxes while others are paying more.  The state mandates that a town with a COD of 20 percent or higher must reappraise. Chester’s COD is 21.43 according to the 2016 Annual Report of the Department of Taxes. Another measure — called the “common level of assessment” — compares the sales prices of many properties with their assessments. When sales prices are lower than assessments – as they have been in Chester – the tax rates go down. A reappraisal will reset both of these measures and may have a dramatic effect on the tax rates.

The last reappraisal was done in 2008 at the height of the real estate market but just at the beginning of a major downturn. Each year the state puts a contribution into the town’s reappraisal fund to cover the cost of hiring a company to do the valuation. The 2008 appraisal cost $167,000 according to Purdy and since then the fund has grown back to about $221,000. Purdy estimates the new appraisal will cost around $180,000.

According to Purdy, once the letter arrives, the town must begin the process of asking for proposals from one of the 21 companies that can do independent assessments in Vermont. Because the appraisal companies are so busy, Purdy said that the work would not be done next year. “We’re probably looking at 2019,” said Purdy.

Rainbow Rock swimming hole may become town property

Lydia Menendez, of the Vermont River Conservancy, came to the board to see if the town of Chester would accept as a gift for public use 1.84 acres of land between the Green Mountain Turnpike and the portion of the Williams River known as Rainbow Rock. Her organization, she said, is considering its purchase for that purpose.

Lydia Menendez of the Vermont River Conservancy outlines her organization's offer to the town

Lydia Menendez of the Vermont River Conservancy outlines her organization’s offer to the town

“How would you raise the money?” asked DeBenedetti.

“Magic,” quipped Menendez who went on to say that a combination of grants, donations and other fundraising would be put together to make the purchase from Paul and Pat Dexter, the current owners of the land. “We have always succeeded when we’ve started with a broad base of support,” said Menendez, noting that funding the purchase would take at least a year.

In answer to Tom Hildreth’s question about the safety of the steep site and the post-Irene debris still in the water, Menendez said the Conservancy would make create flood mitigation that could be used as steps a part of the project. Board member Arne Jonynas said he thought the Chester Conservation Committee would be happy to maintain the site after it becomes town property. The board voted to encourage the Conservancy to proceed.

New accounting software

Town Clerk Deb Aldrich, standing, and Assistant Town Clerk Cil Matthews present a plan to update Chester's accounting system

Town Clerk Deb Aldrich, standing, and Assistant Town Clerk Cil Matthews present a plan to update Chester’s accounting system.

Town Clerk Deb Aldrich and Cil Matthews, assistant town clerk and bookkeeper, presented a memo explaining the switch from cash basis accounting to accrual that was recommended by the town’s outside auditor Ron Smith. The memo also proposed buying fund accounting software from the New England Municipal Resource Center. The software would integrate all the accounting functions of the town office across the complex set of funds and accounts.

The cost of the software is $7,180 with an additional $10,000 in training and consulting. Aldrich said that it was likely that the town office would not need the entire training budget and that NEMRC has agreed to defer the payment for the software until next year to allow for it to be put in the budget. The board adopted the accrual basis and approved the software purchase so everything could be in place for a Jan. 1 cut-over.

400 feet of Quarry Road

Before the Select Board meeting began, there was a hearing on whether the town should “throw up” the last 400 feet Quarry Road. At the June 1 Select Board meeting, road foreman Graham Kennedy told the board that that portion of the road is difficult for the town to maintain and is entirely surrounded by the property of Carlo Kapp, who wants to close it and maintain it himself.  At Wednesday night’s hearing there was little discussion.

Board member Jonynas, who has said that he is loathe to give up town lands, suggested discontinuing the road rather than throwing it up. This would keep the road in town ownership as a Class 4 road. It would also mean it would be open to the public and could not be closed with a gate.

The hearing lasted less than 10 minutes and the board has 60 days to render a decision on the request.

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