Saint Albans Messenger; September 21, 2016
Public vote down the road for selectboard
By TOM BENTON Messenger Staff Writer
SWANTON — The Swanton Wind Project’s Public Service Board application was on the table, literally, at Tuesday night’s town selectboard meeting. It was the elephant in the room.
The project’s opponents dominated the public seating, eagerly awaiting an indication of what steps the selectboard might take toward blocking the project. But that conversation took place only in private, for legal reasons, during an executive session at the end of the night.
Selectboard Chair Joel Clark told those in attendance the selectboard had only recently received the thick application, and had not had time to digest its contents yet.
The selectboard will vote in public on any decided course of action, Clark said.
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Selectboard Chair Joel Clark and Vice Chair L. John Lavoie confer, with the Swanton Wind Project’s Public Service Board application on the table.
TOM BENTON, St. Albans Messenger
When it came time for public comment, Clark warned that he would not allow the night to become a two-hour “public forum” regarding industrial wind. But he did encourage representatives from each viewpoint to speak, succinctly, before the meeting progressed.
Travis Belisle, the developer behind the Swanton Wind Project, sat between his lawyer Leslie Cadwell, who filed the application on his behalf, and Martha Staskus, the Vice President of Vermont Environmental Research Associates (VERA). He had nothing to say beyond thanks, to the selectboard, for their consideration.
Christine Lang, one of the project’s opponents, urged the selectboard to look into “intervenorship,” the town’s ability to “have a say at the table” of the Public Service Board in regard to the project. Republican Representative Marianna Gamache elaborated that the rights of intervenorship are only available if the selectboard makes their intentions clear at the beginning of the Public Service Board’s hearing process, which will commence after the board reviews the project’s application.
“I hope you’ll make a decision sooner, rather than later,” Lang said.
With the project’s opponents before them and discussion of the application looming ahead on the agenda, Clark tried to plow through the rest of the evening’s topics without giving any the short shift.
The selectboard discussed the Swanton economic development coordinator’s job description. The position is becoming a reality after almost a year’s discussion, and despite a rejected grant application that would have ensured a full-time position. The selectboard has allotted $31,000 toward the position, making it part-time. At their last meeting, board members voted 3-2 in favor of moving forward with the position despite the lack of funding.
Hank and Molly Lambert suggested the selectboard consider hiring a consultant, contracting out the position rather than hiring a person. Selectboard members have expressed concern that a $31,000 position will not attract the best candidates for the job, but the Lamberts proposed that that amount of money might seem significant to a small consulting firm.
The board was impressed, and promised to take the idea into consideration.
“Just for the record, we’re not seeking that [contract],” Hank said. “We are contractors, but it’s just an idea.”
Discussion regarding a proposed LED announcement sign that would stand on the village green was less hopeful.
“This is a sticky wicket,” Clark said. The Agency of Transportation has informed him that a municipality cannot have a sign that changes messages, for fear that it will distract drivers — despite the fact, as Clark noted, there seems to be just such a sign being placed in Highgate.
Clark said he did not see the sign happening unless a higher-ranking member of the Agency of Transportation speaks up, squashing “a lot of good intent.” The sign has been enthusiastically discussed at various public meetings since June.
Gamache said she would be happy to make a call regarding the sign on the town’s behalf.
Other business included an announcement that the town has made a rocky transition to new official email accounts for its three boards, with Town Administrator David Jescavage predicting the “bugs” would be worked out soon, and a decision to discontinue a 205-foot section of Babbie Boulevard and reclassify it as a trail.
Jescavage also alerted the selectboard to the Agency of Transportation’s new Transportation Alternatives Program, a grant that could pay up to $300,000 toward bike lanes. Jescavage said the grant could be used to put bike lanes on Maquam Shore Road, regarding the lack of which he has received frequent complaints.
Jescavage warned that the grant funding was severely limited, and the application process therefore highly competitive.
“It’s not going to get better if we don’t try,” Clark said. “That’s gaining.”
The Swanton Wind Project is expected to be discussed again at tonight’s planning commission meeting, held in the town offices at 7 p.m