Saint Albans Messenger; April 8, 2017
Board limits who will be part of hearings
By TOM BENTON
Messenger Staff Writer
SWANTON — The Public Service Board (PSB) issued its final ruling on formal participants in the board’s regulation of Swanton Wind Thursday afternoon.
The board’s order limits the participation of several local parties, and outlines a clear scope of participation for all newly approved “intervenors,” the board’s term for formally recognized participants in its regulatory process.
The board approved motions to “intervene” in its process from the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), Green Mountain Power (GMP), the Vermont Army National Guard (VTNG) and Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE). The VTNG’s motion was filed one week after the filing deadline, and referred to a Federal Aviation Administration determination that did not exist. Still, the PSB granted its motion to intervene on the basis of the VTNG’s claim that constructing Swanton Wind could “significantly and negatively” affect the VTNG’s rotary wing operations in the Northern Champlain Valley. The board noted that Swanton Wind did not oppose the VTNG’s motion.
Swanton Wind strongly opposed VCE’s intervention, however, arguing in its response to VCE’s motion that VCE has not demonstrated Swanton Wind’s construction could affect particular interests of the organization or its members. As the board put it, Swanton Wind stated “that such interests are no different from those of the public generally and that those interests will be adequately represented by existing parties.”
Swanton Wind requested that VCE disclose the names and addresses of the Derby-based organization’s members, questioning whether any of VCE’s members live near the project’s proposed construction site. The PSB denied that request, and suggested Swanton Wind request that information during the next round of discovery, in which Swanton Wind will question formal participants in the PSB’s process.
The board noted that Swanton Wind can still object to the admissibility of VCE’s testimony or exhibits at the time they are filed.
Swanton Wind also objected to GMP’s participation in regard to the project’s economic benefit. The board overruled that objection, “because GMP is the state’s largest retail distribution electric utility [and] potential impacts to its rates could have an economic impact through much of Vermont.”
Neither Swanton Wind nor the board objected to VTrans’ motion, seeking participation on the basis of potential impacts to the Franklin County State Airport.
The issue of citizens’ motions to intervene was more complex.
The board granted intervention motions from residents of the area served by the Northwest Regional Planning Commission — that is Franklin and Grand Isle counties — but only in regards to the project’s “orderly development.”
The board said “residents of the region that would be subject to potential impacts from the project may provide useful insights about the extent and nature of any such impacts.”
On the other hand, the board denied intervention motions from a smaller group of citizens who applied regarding the need for the project, saying those citizens failed “to explain how their interest is different from that of any other ratepayer, nor… why other parties, such as the Department [of Public Service], GMP and the City of Burlington Electric Department will not adequately represent the interest they may have.”
Fairfield residents Sally and Bruce Collopy applied to participate in regards to system stability and reliability. But the board denied their motion to intervene, for the same reason quoted above.
The Collopys also filed motions to intervene in regards to floodways and shorelines. In both cases,
the board chose to interpret the requests as misdirected, and actually pertaining to soil erosion, concerning which the board reinterpreted and then approved their motions.
The board granted limited participation to intervenors seeking to address the project’s economic benefit, aesthetics and public health and safety, because all those who filed live near the project’s proposed construction site and transportation systems.
But the board denied applications pertaining to outstanding resource waters, water pollution, waste disposal, water conservation, sufficiency of water and burden on existing water supply, streams and wildlife — in every case, because the PSB found the parties did not prove how those issues affected their particular interests, or why another organization participating in the process could not adequately represent those interests.
Patrick and Judith Luneau, Curtis Swan and Sara Luneau-Swan and David Butterfield all applied to intervene regarding “public investments.” The public investment each cited was the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail — and the PSB approved their motions on that basis.
Though several other participants were granted limited participation regarding specific topics, the PSB wholly denied Mark and Marianne Dubie’s motion to intervene regarding whether Swanton Wind engaged in site preparation prior to the board’s approval.
In a March civil suit filed with the Franklin County Civil Court, the Dubies allege that Swanton Wind representatives repeatedly trespassed on their land and performed damaging preparatory work regarding the project in 2015 and 2016.
Although the board denied the Dubies’ motion, saying it is “outside the scope of this proceeding,” the board noted the Dubies could file a separate complaint for the board’s investigation, and that the findings of that investigation could ultimately affect the PSB’s review of the project.
The board issued its order to all those granted formal participation, as well as those denied — a whopping total of 69 participants.
The PSB’s regulatory process is required under Title 30, Section 248 of the Vermont statutes. The ideal outcome of the process, at least for Swanton Wind developers Travis and Ashley Belisle, is a Certificate of Public Good, a document essentially allowing the project’s construction to go forward.