Saint Albans Messenger; February 8, 2017
Workshop to be held on Thursday
By TOM BENTON
Messenger Staff Writer
SWANTON — With a long-anticipated public event concerning Swanton Wind set for Thursday night and the first batch of discovery questions submitted to the Public Service Board, the project’s briefly stalled regulatory process has begun.
The Public Service Board (PSB) issued a new scheduling order on Jan. 20, outlining the timeline for the PSB’s nine-month review of the controversial wind project.
Following Thursday’s workshop, the process begins with a round of written discovery aimed at Swanton Wind, the “petitioner.” The purpose of the PSB review’s written discovery process is identical to the purpose of written discovery in court: to ask the petitioner, in this case Swanton Wind, to bring forward documents in question.
All formally recognized participants in the process have the opportunity to use the written discovery period to seek specific documentation related to Swanton Wind — meaning not just organizations like the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, but also participants like the Town of Swanton and individuals such as Christine and Dustin Lang, the project’s oldest public opponents.
The deadline for the first round of written discovery is Feb. 16. Those convinced by Thursday’s workshop to apply for formal recognition before the PSB may not have time to participate in that initial round. However, there is a second round March 9, before the tables turn on Apr. 24, when discovery questions can be aimed at any of the process’s formal participants other than Swanton Wind.
So far only the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets has submitted discovery questions to the board. However, its submission illustrates the kind of questions Swanton Wind’s representatives will face: “What is the total acreage of each Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) soil type and value rating on the project tract?… Please identify and describe each area that will be disturbed permanently by the project, including the location and square footage of each… Identify and describe the type of seed cover that will be used to revegetate disturbed areas after construction.”
These questions cover ground identified as a concern by the project’s opponents. For example, the Town of Swanton Planning Commission’s heavily debated revisions to Swanton’s municipal energy plan use the harshest possible language to discourage the utilization of “prime ag soils” for renewable energy projects.
But Swanton Wind’s opponents have expressed skepticism about state agencies’ willingness to press for hard answers regarding questions like those above. That’s where Thursday’s workshop comes into play.
The workshop begins at 5 p.m. in the Swanton Village Municipal Complex. Its stated purpose, per the board, is to allow members of the public to directly question Swanton Wind’s representatives and, in doing so, decide whether to apply for recognition as a formal participant in the PSB’s review process.
The workshop is open to anyone. The board has stated the workshop may span five hours. Wind opponents are gearing up for a show.
Patty Rainville, one of the project’s critics and a resident of the area surrounding the project’s proposed site, said, “The more educated people involved in the discussion the better.”
That is a stance that has been publicly echoed by most of the project’s opponents, including the Town of Swanton Selectboard, which has encouraged local attendance at Thursday’s workshop since its announcement months ago, and the Langs, who will be out of the state tomorrow and not attending the workshop. Swanton Wind has until Feb. 10 to elaborate on its response to a motion by the Langs alleging that portions of Swanton Wind’s PSB application do not meet evidentiary criteria and should be excluded.
Vermont Environmental Research Associates Vice President Martha Staskus has extensively worked with Travis and Ashley Belisle, Swanton Wind’s developers, and is standing in as the project’s spokesperson while attorney Anthony Iarrapino is on vacation.
“Local project team representatives will be available to answer questions and to help inform the community and Vermonters about project benefits, including annual local and state-education payments that Swanton Wind will make,” Staskus said in an email comment. “The Belisles are building this project in their own backyard in a community where they have deep roots. We are hopeful that this next step in the conversation with neighbors and other stakeholders will promote an appreciation of the project’s benefits and a more efficient process before the board.”