Saturday January 26, 2013

GRAFTON -- The Selectboard chose not to include in the Town Warrant the article a group of concerned citizens submitted Thursday, citing it as being "written incorrectly."

The Friends of Grafton's Heritage, led by resident Liisa Kissel, spent two days collecting signatures from townspeople and got the petition to the town hall just in time Thursday. The group's petition was aimed at keeping the town free of commercial wind test towers and turbines by banning the structures. Though not formed solely to prohibit wind installations, the group has established a mission to prevent any from being built.

The deadline for petitions was 4 p.m., as all must be submitted with 40 days of Town Meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, March 5. Petitions can be submitted once the signatures of 5 percent of the town's registered voters have been gathered. Kissel said Grafton has about 483 voters.

Grafton Town Clerk Kim Record confirmed that Kissel submitted the petition. Record said she reviewed the 40 signatures and made sure they were all registered voters and then officially stamped the petition.

The petition went before the Selectboard at its meeting Thursday and members decided to reject it instead of making it a binding or non-binding article.

In a statement e-mailed to the Reformer, Grafton Selectboard Chairman Al Sands said the board was informed by the town attorney and legal counsel for the Vermont League of Cities and Towns that the article as written, if approved, would ask the town to do something it does not have jurisdiction to do.


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"The jurisdiction is under the Public Service Board as spelled out in Vermont (Statute)," the statement read. "With that information in hand from two legal sources the Selectmen chose to not include the article that was written incorrectly."

According to Kissel, the submitted text read, "Shall the town prohibit large-scale industrial wind installations in Grafton?"

According to Sands, Kissel at a previous Selectboard meeting told its members she planned to enter an article for vote. Sands said Kissel was asked if she had an attorney and said she did. The chairman said Kissel was instructed to make sure her lawyer read the statute and she was told which title and sections were relevant.

Kissel was informed of the rejection by the Reformer on Friday and expressed disbelief with the board's decision.

"At this point, I'm just stunned and very, very surprised," she said. "I don't understand this at all."

Later in the evening, she released a statement on behalf of the group.

"I alerted the Selectboard on Monday that we would be submitting the petition on Thursday. Needless to say, we are disappointed with the course the Selectboard has chosen to take," the statement read. "We are also surprised and disappointed to hear this from a third party. We are taking the matter under advisement, evaluating our options and looking into the legal aspects of the situation."

Iberdrola Renewables, operating as Atlantic Wind LLC, formally asked for the state's permission to erect three meteorological testing towers -- two in Windham and one in Grafton -- on land owned by New Hampshire-based Meadowsend Timberlands Limited. The company recently received permits to construct the towers, which could be a precursor to Windham County's first commercial wind turbines, Kissel said Atlantic Wind plans to start building as soon as possible.

Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman had no comment on the petition or the article's rejection.

Kissel said the group attempted to submit the warrant article because it was unclear what the town's Selectboard would do about the situation. She said some of the people who signed the people either not members of the Friends of Grafton's Heritage or are vocal supporters of the wind turbines but feel it is important for the democratic process to bring the issue before the people.

Kissel said her group is also working on how to amend language in the town plan regarding test towers and wind turbines.

"We feel it is inappropriate for our town," she told the Reformer. "It provides very little effective energy and it is very expensive -- both in terms of the money and the environmental destruction."

The Friends of Grafton's Heritage sponsored a public meeting in late November to express its opposition to the whole project. The group invited Ben Luce, a professor of physics and sustainability studies at Lyndon State College, to speak to residents. More than 100 people crammed into The White Chapel him describe his research and work that has convinced him the installation of such structures are not appropriate for Vermont.

There were also two Iberdrola representatives at the meeting, but they did not participate in the discussion. The following the meeting, Copleman told the Reformer it is was unfortunate the meeting was put on by individuals with a predisposed opinion.

"We were disappointed about the lack of discussion about the facts of wind power," he said in a telephone interview. "There is a lot to talk about."

Meadowsend Timber Company and Atlantic Wind LLC have planned two Saturday meetings at Grafton Elementary School to explain the wind energy project. The first meeting is set for Feb. 2 and the second is slated for Feb. 16. Both meetings are scheduled to last from 1 to 4 p.m.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.