Saint Albans Messenger – September 29, 2015
Officials write to PSB, cite prior violations
By MATTHEW PREEDOM Messenger Correspondent
SWANTON – The Town of Swanton has announced its opposition to Swanton Wind, LLC’s proposed wind turbine project to be sited at Rocky Ridge.
In a six-page letter sent to the Public Service Board, the town selectboard, in cooperation with the planning commission, has concluded that the project “would create more detriments than benefits to the Town of Swanton and adjoining towns and thus, will not serve the public good.”
“This letter is the town taking a position,” selectboard chair Dan Billado said. “This project is not the right thing for Swanton. I’m against this because my first concern is for the quality of life for the people of Swanton.”
The letter asks many questions of the developer, Travis Belisle, and seeks to inform the Public Service Board of what the town believes is a somewhat checkered record Mr. Belisle has with permitting and regulatory agencies.
The selectboard and planning commission writes that, in addition to his failure to obtain a Certificate of Public Good for a meteorological station that stood atop Rocky Ridge for 4 years, Belisle has been “cited by the state for numerous wetland, stormwater, and wastewater violations,” including unpermitted intrusions into wetlands and wetland buffer zones.
Wetlands are a controversial topic for the proposed wind farm as hilltop Belisle intends to develop is pockmarked with class II wetlands and a host of other ponds and streams that may also be protected.
The town also states that Belisle was cited multiple times during the development of the Rocky Ridge subdivision, including failures to obtain Certificates of Occupancy and failure to provide the town with the appropriate documentation for Certificates of Occupancy.
The town writes: “Travis Belisle’s previous track record as a developer in Swanton raises concerns about how he would implement this much larger and ecologically more sensitive project.”
The letter also raises questions about the truthfulness of several statements in Swanton Wind’s 45-day notice, which was sent out in August.
The town alleges renewable energy projects are not as efficient as advertised and that they “increase electric rates for the consumer.” Additionally, the town says that it has serious concerns about the aesthetics of the project. “
[Rocky Ridge] is about 500 feet higher than the farmland below. The wind turbines are projected to be 499 feet tall to the uppermost blade tip. They would be aesthetically incongruous on the ridgeline and visible over 10 miles away,” the letter argues. It also says the project would be visible from “virtually every public vantage point, and it would dominate the landscape.”
“These towers are 100 feet taller than any others in New England,” Billado clarified later. “This is not Vermont. This is not the scenery people expect when they visit Vermont. We’re not opposed to renewable energy, but what we don’t want is turbines placed in the middle of neighborhoods.
“We wanted a letter stating our concerns on the application,” Planning Commission chair Jim Hubbard said. “These are the concerns we’ve heard from people and we wanted to give voice to the concerns of our municipality. These are not individual concerns of the board, this is what we’ve heard over and over again from the community.”
The Commission and the Selectboard were unanimous in their decisions to send the letter as written.
The town also has approved its updated town plan which includes language officials hope will give it some arguments against the project during the permitting process.
“This project does not make sense to us,” Billado said. “It’s stupid. It’s all about money.”