Saint Albans Messenger; December 21, 2016
By TOM BENTON
Messenger Staff Writer
SWANTON — The town selectboard confirmed the details of an upcoming workshop regarding Swanton Wind, approved revisions to the municipal energy plan and announced the formation of a committee to interview candidates for the long-discussed economic development coordinator position at the board’s regular meeting Dec. 20. The selectboard also approved a motion to rename Aljon Street and discussed a protocol for use of Swanton’s new LED announcement sign in the park.
Selectboard chair Joel Clark announced the Public Service Board (PSB) approved the town’s request to host a prehearing conference regarding Swanton Wind in Swanton.
Selectboard chair Joel Clark reads from the Public Service Board’s fourpage decision to host a workshop regarding Swanton Wind at MVU the first week of January.
The PSB’s regulatory process will determine whether the proposed wind farm can be constructed on Rocky Ridge. The process begins in January with this prehearing conference, a workshop designed to offer anyone, including the general public, the chance to ask questions regarding the project.
The PSB issued an order Dec. 19 approving the Town of Swanton’s recommendation that the workshop be held Jan. 3 at the Missisquoi Valley Union (MVU) High School auditorium in Swanton. The workshop commences at 5 p.m., and could continue until 10 p.m.
Swanton Wind, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets all supported the recommendation.
Clark encouraged Swanton residents to attend the workshop at last night’s meeting, even those who don’t plan to ask questions.
Clark said, “If you’ve missed it for the last year and- a-half, it’s a pretty hot topic — so let’s get out there and do our homework.”
“The more [attendance] the better,” said selectboard member Daniel Billado. “Hopefully it’s a full house.”
The PSB order includes an agenda for the workshop. The workshop will begin with a brief presentation by Swanton Wind, lasting no more than 10 minutes, unless those in attendance request more detail.
Those in attendance can then ask Swanton Wind questions about the project. “Questions should be geared towards understanding the details of the proposed project and its potential impacts,” the PSB order notes.
If there is time remaining after the question-and answer session, the PSB order states the board will answer questions about the process to become a recognized party in the PSB’s proceedings, and the capabilities of those who become such. Those seeking to become active participants in the PSB process must be formally recognized by the board in a process called “intervenorship.” The board refers to formally recognized parties as “intervenors.”
The PSB order notes that the Jan. 3 workshop is intended “to result in an exchange of information,” not a chance for members of the public to directly present their concerns, thoughts and opinions on the project to the board. That opportunity comes July 17 in the PSB’s scheduled public hearing regarding the project.
Energy plan revisions
The debate over proposed revisions to Swanton’s municipal energy plan ended last night, when the selectboard approved a motion to adopt those revisions following the second of two public hearings on the language.
The language emphasizes that renewable energy structures must be located “a sufficient distance from residences to avoid any conflict between the operation of these structures and the peaceful and healthful enjoyment of their properties by the occupants of the residences.” Location preferences for such projects are “brownfield sites, old quarry sites and other disturbed land away from existing residential neighborhoods.”
The language also discourages the use of “prime ag soils” for energy projects, encourages the use of “all reasonable measures” to avoid placing energy projects on ridges and prohibits the use of “critical wildlife habitats on ridge tops, in the lowlands and in wetlands” for energy projects “where the negative impacts of the individual project disrupts the wildlife habitat or interferes with the migration patterns of the wildlife.”
As at the selectboard’s first public hearing, on Dec. 6, the public was silent, a marked contrast to the frequently unruly debates that characterized the town planning commission’s meetings to develop the language. Swanton Wind representatives had argued for language with a more factual basis at those meetings. The project’s representatives did not attend the selectboard’s hearings, leaving only the base group of the project’s opponents.
Billado again thanked the commission for its work in sculpting the language over the past year-plus. Planning commissioners Ed Daniel and Ross Lavoie attended the meeting to hear final comments on the language. They heard only thanks from Christine Lang, on behalf of the project’s opponents, and the approval of the selectboard’s motion to adopt the language into the municipal energy plan.
That language is effective immediately. To view the revisions, visit the Town of Swanton’s website, townofswantonvermont. weebly.com. Click the “MUNICIPAL PLAN” link on the left sidebar, then the “2016 PLAN AMENDMENTS” link.