Saint Albans Messenger; November 16, 2015
Non-binding votes set for Tues.; debate still rages
SWANTON – Tuesday at 7 a.m. the polls with be opened and residents of Swanton will have an opportunity to say whether they think the 20 megawatt wind project proposed by Swanton Wind is a good fit for their town.
The vote is not binding on either the developers, regulators, or the town, as each has their own agenda and goals to pursue.
The vote, according to Selectboard Chairman Dan Billado, will help the town “send a message to Montpelier” that projects like this are not wanted Swanton.
However, on the other side, Swanton Wind’s project team and its supporters have been hitting the bricks in anticipation of the vote. Anthony Iarrapino, an attorney for the team, said that collectively they have knocked on hundreds of doors in Swanton in hopes of encouraging voters to turn out.
“This project does not fit the landscape of Swanton. It doesn’t fit into our economy or our way of life and it will only cause problems and damage the quality of life in our town,” Billado explained. “We want this vote because when Swanton Wind tries to get its permits, we’ll be able to show the state that, if they approve it, they will be forcing it on the community.”
Of course, the vote could go either way, and a referendum that is favorable to Swanton Wind could have the opposite effect Billado hopes for.
“We don’t think we’ll lose this,” Billado said. “I’ve spoken to a lot of folks and I think most people agree that this is a bad idea.”
Billado said that, regardless of the outcome of the vote, it will not change his mind on whether the town should stand in the project’s way.
“This is a quality of life issue,” he said. “I was elected to work for the people of Swanton and I see these turbines as a threat to our citizens, so no matter how the vote turns out, I’m against this thing and I’ll encourage the town to fight it.”
Billado would not commit on whether the town would hire lawyers to fight against approval for Swanton Wind’s permit, nor did he know how much such a challenge would cost.
“We have some decisions to make coming up and I can’t speak to how those decisions will go or what it will cost,” he said. “But I think this vote is a no brainer – we need to send a message.”
Iarrapino, however, said, “We’ve been very happy with the response we got from the people we spoke with. We talked to a lot of folks who hadn’t even heard about Swanton Wind yet, and many who were for the project because of its economic and environmental benefits.”
The lawyer for project developers said that he believed calling for a vote at this point was premature, since Swanton Wind has not filed an application and has not yet had a chance to answer many questions.
“We have not yet finalized key project details and the town has been posting a lot of junk science on its website, which could potentially mislead a lot of people,” Iarrapino continued. “We really want people to wait until all the facts are in before coming to a judgment. Unfortunately, the way the town has conducted this process leaves us little hope for a fair result.”
Still the team is taking the vote seriously as an opportunity to engage the community and, perhaps, attract positive attention.
“This vote matters because Travis and Ashley Belisle (proprietors of Swanton Wind)
live in Swanton. This is their community and they are doing this for their community.
Travis and Ashley want Swanton to be with them as they go through this process,” Iarrapino said.
“If we lose, we’re still moving forward. The vote is non-binding, so it won’t, on its own stop or allow the project, but it’s still important and we want to encourage people to go vote. I think we have a lot of supporters out there who don’t speak up because of the tone of the opponents.”
Swanton residents will vote on two articles, the first relating directly to Swanton Wind and the second to how renewable energy projects are permitted. They are:
ARTICLE 1: Do the voters of the Town of Swanton oppose Swanton Wind, LLC’s proposed installation of seven 499-foot tall wind turbines on Rocky Ridge in the Town of Swanton?
Opponents of the project should vote “yes” and supporters “no.”
ARTICLE 2: Do the voters of the Town of Swanton support state that would legislation enable local town control and review of renewable energy projects for large-scale wind/solar generation in the Town of Swanton?
Those favoring greater local control should vote “yes” and opponents “no.”
Swanton Wind has taken issue with the language of the articles, which, they argue, influences voters to be opponents of the project.
“The deck is stacked against us,” Iarrapino said.
“Article One talks about aesthetic impacts but does not mention the economic benefits the project will bring to the town in the form of tax revenue and jobs. It’s just one more example of opponents who are trying to defeat this project by any means necessary.”
The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 17, at the Swanton Village municipal office building.