GRAFTON -- Two articles pertaining to a potential wind turbine project were the main topics of discussion at Tuesday's Town Meeting at the elementary school.
Articles 3 and 4 were related to plans by Iberdrola Renewable, operating as Atlantic Wind LLC, to erect a 200-foot meteorological-testing (MET) tower on land owned by New Hampshire-based Meadowsend Timberlands Limited. Depending on the weather data they produce, the towers could be a precursor to Windham County's first commercial wind turbines.
Article 3, which was tabled indefinitely, asked if the Grafton Selectboard could continue conversations with Meadowsend and Atlantic Wind to collect information and share it with town voters. Residents opted via acclamation to adopt Article 4, meaning the town can vote by Australian ballot on any issue regarding commercial wind energy production facility project or its regulation.
Grafton Selectboard Chairman Al Sands started the discussion on Article 3 by saying it was put on the town warrant because there is passionate support on both sides of the issue. While some think the project could be beneficial, others -- such as a group called the Friends of Grafton's Heritage -- insist it makes no economic sense and would have severe repercussions on the town and its residents.
Sands said everything is just conceptual at this point and the MET tower data must be collected before Iberdrola move forward with the project. The article's
Resident Sam Battaglino said he thought the article was very confusing and was unhappy to learn Atlantic Wind will not release its future meteorological data. He also wanted to know why there was a rush to the make the vote. Sands later said Atlantic Wind won't release data because it does not want to share information with its competitors in the industry. He said the purpose of the vote was to get a feel for the town's opinion and stressed that a "yes" vote on the article would not mean they are OK'ing the whole project.
Kissel said Article 3 is "not acceptable" and "not what democracy is about." She said wind turbines could result in declines in tourism, second-home ownership and an increase in noise.
"This article is frivolous, it is not needed," she said.
Resident Skip Lisle said this project is a very big deal and the whole situation is probably unlike anything the Grafton Selectboard has ever had to deal with. He said he has a great deal of respect for Sands but is concerned over what sort of effects he has heard wind turbines can have on property values and individuals' health.
A few other people said they found the article to be confusing and someone made a motion to "pass it over" indefinitely.
Moving on to Article 4, Sands said people should look at it like a contract. He said it will set the rules for future boards to do this business by Australian ballot.
Kissel said she was pleased with the way things transpired. She said her group was hoping Article 3 would be defeated but is content with tabling it.
"It was so confusing it needed to be either voted down or passed over," she told the Reformer. "(The town) was obviously not ready."
She said adoption of Article 4 will allow for debate at Town Meeting pushes for a democratic process.
When the meeting moved on, voters adopted Article 5, which will raise $139,000 for the capital budget. According to the town warrant, $97,000 will raised for equipment, $20,000 for the roadway program, $5,000 for highway structures, $12,000 for a fire truck and $5,000 for guardrails.
Residents also adopted Article 6, raising $478,758 for highways and bridges, and Article 7, which will raise $208,318 for the selectmen's budget, before moving on to the article about school budgets.
Voters opted to approve the Athens/Grafton Joint Contract School District budget of $1,461,890 for kindergarten through sixth grade, including $500 worth of compensation for each school director. They also adopted Article 15 -- to raise and appropriate $1,047,017 for the education of its students in kindergarten through eighth grade from July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014. This will include compensation of $750 for the town treasurer.
State Reps. Carolyn Partridge and Matthew Trieber (D-Windham-4) arrived toward the end of the meeting to speak to members of the public.
Election results -- Norlalee Hall defeated Robbie Sprague, 90-72, via Australian ballot for a three-year seat on the Selectboard.
As no one was listed on the ballot for a position as a trustee of the public library, Christopher Schemm was the write-in winner.
The town adopted by a 124-39 margin a $2,812,062 budget for River Valley Technical Center and a $7,120,375 budget for Bellows Falls Union High School. Citizens voted 115-51 in favor of the BFUHS budget. The total figures of Grafton, Athens, Westminster and Rockingham will be added together to decide the outcome of the article.
Grafton voters also passed approved the Athens/Grafton Joint Contract budget K-6 expenses of $1,461,890 -- which includes a $500 compensation for each school director.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.