GRAFTON -- The potential for Windham County's first commercial wind turbines will be the main issue in the election of Selectboard officials set for Town Meeting Day.
Iberdrola Renewables, operating as Atlantic Wind LLC, is one of the world's largest energy companies and received permits to erect three test towers -- two in Windham and one in Grafton -- on land owned by New Hampshire-based Meadowsend Timberlands Limited. The towers, depending on the weather data they produce, could be a precursor for commercial wind turbines. The one in Grafton was installed in April 2013.
The issue has sharply divided the town, with many residents opposed to the development for various reasons and think it could have a devastating impact on Grafton. Two such people include Sam Battaglino and Skip Lisle, who are running to unseat Selectboard Chairman Al Sands and member Gus Plummer, respectively. The vote, by Australian ballot, will be held Tuesday. Polls will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Battaglino, running for a two-year term, told the Reformer he is unhappy with what he perceives as arrogance on the part of the Selectboard.
"There's virtually no communication with the people they represent. They're out of touch," he said, adding that he feels some citizens are stifled during public-comment portions if the Selectboard members don't like what is being said. "Everybody deserves to be heard.
He said he has never served on the Selectboard, but was a member of the town's planning commission before he resigned due to difficulties with the Selectboard. He said two people, including resident Liisa Kissel, who has spearheaded efforts to defeat the wind project, wanted to become the planning commission's sixth and seventh members, but the Selectboard said the commission was fine with just five members.
"I just want to open up the avenues for conversation for the entire town. And I want an open and transparent Selectboard," Battaglino said. "All opinions should be respected and listened to."
Lisle, running for a three-year seat, said the wind project is a big issue for him as well.
"That is a very broad issue that, in my opinion, if it goes through, will have a very negative effect on our economy," he said, adding that as wildlife biologist, he has a deep commitment to the environment. "Grafton has an international reputation for being a small, quiet and beautiful town. I think we need to stick with that strength. That's our economic future."
Lisle also said he has concerns about the lack of transparency in the town's government.
"We have a board that claims to be neutral (with respects to the wind project), but they certainly appear otherwise," he said. "It's affected the way the town government has been carried out and the way the planning commission has been staffed. This is a hugely important issue."
Sands has chosen to run for re-election to his two-year seat, though the decision is not one he made lightly. He said he finds the position very challenging and Selectboard members often hear from people with opposing views and everyone wants "you to consider their thought correct."
"I did not come to the Board with an agenda and I still do not have an agenda but do have a couple things I would like to try and accomplish," he said in a written statement.
Sands said he has been labeled "pro-wind" simply because he is not "anti-wind." He said he needs to know more about wind power before he can decide if the proposed project is a good idea for Grafton. Sands said he always tries to do the right thing for the town.
He also said he would like to see through the construction of the new town garage.
Town voters opted at a special meeting in December 2013 to relocate the position of the town garage, which was heavily damaged by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, and construct a new one at an estimated cost not to exceed $1.2 million with interest. The vote, taken on Tuesday, Dec. 17, occurred one day after electing to accept a block grant for the project, which is subject to deduction from any available state and federal grants and other financial assistance or resources of the town.
"Having over $300,000 worth of equipment setting out in the weather is not a good idea and we have a talented Road Crew that I feel has been held back from working to their full potential in the current garage," he wrote. "With the vote behind us, we now have a committee of Danny Taylor, Stan Mack, Gus Plummer and I, working with the engineer Brud Sanderson so hopefully by this time next year all equipment will be inside warm and ready to go."
Plummer did not return an e-mail seeking comment.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.