Wednesday January 30, 2013

WINDHAM -- After months of controversy about a potential wind farm in Windham and Grafton, the owners of the land that might host those turbines want to tell their story.

Meadowsend Timberlands Limited is scheduled to participate in Grafton meetings scheduled for Feb. 2 and Feb. 16.

But administrators of the New Hampshire-based company say they've been unsuccessfully attempting to set up a meeting in Windham, where officials have opposed commercial wind-power development.

Windham officials cite timing and logistics -- including the loss of an experienced town clerk -- as the main barriers to such a session at this point. Meadowsend, however, is pushing for a discussion with Windham residents as soon as possible, and preferably before Town Meeting.

"The intent and the message is that we want to have an open, objective dialog," said Jeremy Turner, Meadowsend managing forester.

The company owns 5,000 acres of land in the two towns. Last year, the international developer Iberdrola Renewables -- operating locally as Atlantic Wind LLC -- announced plans to install three meteorological-testing towers on that timberland.

Those structures, depending on the data they produce, could lead to Windham County's first commercial-scale wind farm. The state Public Service Board in December approved the MET towers.

That was in spite of strong objections from Windham officials, who argue that industrial wind power is banned in their town plan.


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For the most part, Iberdrola has been publicly defending the project. But now, Meadowsend administrators are stepping forward as well.

In a late-December letter to Windham's Selectboard and Planning Commission, Turner cited a changing economy as one reason Meadowsend is pursuing a deal with a wind-turbine developer.

"It is becoming increasingly difficult to rely solely on sustainable timber management to cover the carrying costs of working forestland. We are under increased pressure to clear-cut, to liquidate and to manage this land in ways that do not meet our goals and values," Turner wrote. "Therefore, we are looking to other ways to maintain Stiles Brook Forest as a working forestland, with renewable wind power as one tool in that toolbox."

Turner added that the company is "increasingly concerned that an opportunity for meaningful discussion around our property has not occurred."

"Critical issues regarding the future of Stiles Brook Forest have not been adequately communicated, and we would welcome an opportunity to begin these discussions now as we have learned there is much information to share," Turner wrote.

"We feel we owe the towns of Windham and Grafton a more complete explanation of our ideas, plans, values and thinking about the future of the property. Stiles Brook Forest potentially plays a major role in the future stability of these two towns."

Turner said Meadowsend will participate in the Grafton public meetings, both scheduled for 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the town elementary school. This Saturday's session also is expected to include Iberdrola representatives.

"They'll have a chance to explain the process," Turner said.

The second meeting is described as a "panel discussion on the benefits and concerns" of wind energy.

In July, Meadowsend participated in a similarly themed panel discussion in Windham. But Turner said he felt that gathering, which featured two prominent wind-power opponents, was not well balanced.

"We just want a group discussion that's healthy and factual," he said.

Mary Boyer, Windham Selectboard chairwoman, said she is not opposed to such a meeting.

The main issue, Boyer said, is that Windham officials have been preoccupied with other issues over the past month or so. Town Clerk Carol Merritt had to resign due to health problems, Boyer said, and others have been scrambling to keep Town Meeting preparations on track.

"This is an unusually difficult time of the year for all towns, and it is made more so by the disruption Carol's absence has created," Boyer wrote in a message this week to Turner.

Boyer said any organized community discussion with Meadowsend may have to wait until after Town Meeting. She added that she has not heard Meadowsend disclose any new information in recent correspondence with the company.

Turner disagrees, saying the company is "trying to get through to the people of Windham."

While many opponents have zeroed in on Iberdrola, Turner said the real issue at hand is the continued conservation of a large, important piece of property.

"This isn't about a big corporation," he said. "It's about the land."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.