Saint Albans Messenger; Jan 18, 2017
Wind opponents seek to exclude evidence from PSB
By TOM BENTON
Messenger Staff Writer
SWANTON — The Public Service Board’s review of Swanton Wind faces turbulence before it even takes off: participants in the process cannot agree on a rescheduled date for the public workshop scheduled to kick off the process, while one participating party has filed a motion to exclude testimony on behalf of the project’s developers. The Public Service Board (PSB) originally scheduled a workshop for those considering participation in the process on Jan. 3 at Missisquoi Valley Union Middle and High School (MVU) in Swanton. All the thus-far formally recognized participants in the PSB’s project review agreed on the details of the workshop, which was designed to allow the public to directly ask questions of the project’s developers, Travis and Ashley Belisle, and their representatives. The PSB scheduled its regulatory process to begin approximately a month after the workshop, allowing time for anyone interested in participating in the process to apply for formal recognition.
But the PSB postponed the workshop due to “inclement weather,” and now the process’s participants are unable to agree on a rescheduled date. The PSB requested recommendations for rescheduling from already recognized participants as well as members of the general public, no later than yesterday, Jan. 17.
Swanton Wind’s legal representative before the board, Leslie A. Cadwell, filed a document informing the board the Swanton Wind team is available Jan. 24, 25, 27, 30 and Feb. 9, and that the team still considers MVU an appropriate location for the workshop. However, Swanton Wind has requested the board schedule the workshop prior to the end of January, arguing that further delay in the process is “prejudicial to Swanton Wind, which filed its petition more than four months ago on Sept. 9, 2016.”
Furthermore, Swanton Wind’s filing states that the project’s representatives “will of course participate in good faith in the ‘workshop,’ but notes its objection to including this step in the procedural schedule for this proceeding because the resulting undue delay and additional cost are inconsistent with the ‘just, speedy and inexpensive’ determination of this proceeding.”
Meanwhile, Christine and Dustin Lang, residents near Swanton Wind’s proposed construction area and the project’s foremost opponents, recommended the workshop be rescheduled closer to the spring months. The towns of Swanton and Fairfield recommended the workshop’s rescheduling to Jan. 25, Feb. 9, 10 or 16, due to prior notice required to obtain use of MVU’s facilities.
“The Towns’ primary concern in scheduling the workshop is that it is calculated to maximize participation of the residents of Swanton, Fairfield and adjoining towns,” according to the towns’ filed recommendation.
The Department of Public Service, not to be confused with the PSB, is the only other participant in the process to file a recommendation via the board’s ePSB online service. The Department opted not to make a recommendation, recognizing the workshop is designed for public input rather than that of already recognized parties.
Then there is the issue of a motion filed by the Langs, arguing that portions of several testimonies contained within Swanton Wind’s application should be excluded from the review process. Among those is the Belisles’ offer to buy out unhappy neighbors who do not wish to live near the project, should it be constructed. The Langs’ motion argues that the offer does not relate to the criteria of Section 248, the Vermont statute requiring the PSB’s regulatory process.
“Since this proclamation is not in the form of a bona fide offer to purchase real property, it can not be said to even comprise an offer in settlement of litigation to any affected property owner,” the motion states. “It is merely an attempt to bolster [Travis Belisle’s] credibility by inappropriately inserting what is effectively ‘character witness’ testimony on his own behalf.”
The motion also argues that flicker studies, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) report and several of the project’s other exhibits be excluded for failing to adequately meet Section 248 criteria.
Swanton Wind’s response to the motion takes a different interpretation of the Section 248 criteria. Deciding which interpretation is accurate will fall to the PSB, which has not issued a ruling on the motion.
On the matter of the buy out, Swanton Wind’s response states that the project’s developers expect “any Certificate of Public Good that might be issued for the project” — the PSB’s document of approval, allowing construction — “will be conditioned on Swanton Wind implementing the property buy-out commitment. Therefore, Swanton Wind’s buy-out proposal is a component of the project and evidence on it is relevant for background purposes and to demonstrate how the project will promote the general good.”
The Towns of Fairfield and Swanton issued their own response to the motion. “The Towns join, in their entirety, the positions set forth by the [Langs] in their motion,” the towns’ response states.
The documents in question are significant components of Swanton Wind’s application. If the PSB rules in favor of the Langs, the exclusion of the identified portions of the project’s application could significantly impact the PSB’s final determination.
The PSB initially scheduled its regulatory process regarding Swanton Wind through October. The rescheduled process could take longer.