Saint Albans Messenger; December 7, 2016
Three towns discuss wind legal strategy
By TOM BENTON
Messenger Staff Writer
SWANTON — The Swanton Town Selectboard hosted a joint meeting with representatives from the Fairfield and St. Albans town selectboards Tuesday evening to coordinate legal efforts to oppose Swanton Wind.
After that meeting, Swanton’s selectboard held its regular meeting, which doubled as a public hearing regarding proposed changes to Swanton’s municipal energy plan.
Swanton selectboard chair Joel Clark announced the Town of Swanton committed $10,000 toward legal fees to “vigorously oppose” the Swanton Wind project at the selectboard’s Oct. 11 meeting. That means utilizing party status in the Public Service Board (PSB)’s Section 248 review, the regulatory process that will ultimately determine whether the project goes forward.
Town Administrator David Jescavage then reached out to the other two communities that would border the project’s proposed site of construction, Fairfield and St. Albans Town.
Fairfield Town Clerk Amanda Forbes attended the Swanton selectboard’s Nov. 15 meeting to inform the board that Fairfield’s own selectboard had voted to apply for PSB party status as well at its last meeting. Then, on Nov. 21, the St. Albans Town selectboard voted to do the same.
At the joint board meeting, attended by a quorum of board members from both Fairfield and St. Albans Town, Swanton’s town attorney, Ed Adrian, discussed legal options going forward between the three towns. The meeting was entirely behind closed doors, conducted in executive session after the necessary public introductions.
When the joint boards emerged from the executive session, Clark’s comments were succinct. “We took a look at the different legal options and the choices we’re going to make,” he said, and thanked the other towns for their cooperation.
Energy Plan Hearing Now that Swanton’s planning commission has approved three pages of new language for the municipal energy plan, the selectboard must hold two public hearings regarding the language. The first was last night; the second is scheduled for Dec. 20. Planning Commission Chair Jim Hubbard joined the selectboard at the table to preface the hearing. He said the proposed plan revisions were in response to regulation from Montpelier and requests from Swanton residents. “We took it upon [ourselves] to spend over a year receiving testimony and working with information from Maine to Texas and everywhere else,” Hubbard
said, “and this is the document we’ve come up with. It answers where Swanton needs to go in the future.”
Residents can familiarize themselves with the proposed revisions on the town’s website, townofswantonvermont. weebly.com. The revisions are located under the “Municipal Plan” heading, four notches down the navigation bar to the left, and then listed as “2016 Plan Amendments” on the page.
The revisions say renewable energy projects should preferably be sited on “brownfield sites, old quarry sites and other disturbed land away from existing residential neighborhoods.” The plan discourages the use of “prime ag soils” for such projects, and warns that “all reasonable measures shall be taken” to avoid siting those projects on ridges.
Selectboard member Dan Billado thanked Hubbard and his fellow commissioners for their work “with both sides chewing on your ear.”
But when the selectboard opened the floor to public comment, there was silence. One member of the public piped up: “Looks good.”
Christine Lang said, “We spent a lot of time. You guys put in a lot of time. You listened to input from both sides. You guys do it just for the town, so we appreciate that, for sure.”
If unopposed at the board’s Dec. 20 meeting, the proposed changes will go into effect 21 days later, officially becoming a part of the town plan. The Northwest Regional Planning Commission (NRPC) will then review the changes to determine their compliance with its regional energy plan. January Workshop
The PSB’s regulatory process includes a workshop for those interested in party status, clarifying what party status allows and offering an opportunity for residents to ask questions about the project prior to deciding whether to participate in the PSB process. Clark announced the workshop is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 3 in Missisquoi Valley Union Middle and High School at 5 p.m., pending PSB approval.
He encouraged members of the general public to attend the workshop and explain their feelings about Swanton Wind. “It’s important for us to all understand where you are with this project that’s got the community pretty charged,” Clark said. Other Business
Swanton Wind matters took up the majority of the selectboard’s time. Clark noted that the village’s LED announcement sign had shipped. He estimated it will arrive later this week.
He also encouraged members of the public to attend the northern gateway project’s next meeting, Dec. 8 at 5:30 p.m. in the town office building. The project is a joint Swanton-NRPC initiative to economically and physically invigorate the area around Swanton’s north end. Consultants will discuss options to do so, identifying “catalyst sites,” at Thursday’s meeting. Clark noted that the project is funded by a $50,000 grant obtained by the NRPC, costing Swanton and its taxpayers nothing. Jescavage said the project is already making progress.
Finally, Clark alluded to the fact that the selectboard may soon begin interviewing candidates for Swanton’s economic development coordinator position.