DERBY - Controversy continues to mount over the proposed Derby Line Wind Project.
Vicky and Daniel Lewis live on Whittier Road, about one mile from where one of the turbines would be located. The Lewises came to the Derby Select Board's regular meeting, Monday evening, prepared with information and many questions for the board.
Vicky Lewis pressed the board repeatedly to do its job and represent all residents and to seek intervener status in the wind project process. Brian Smith, chairman of the board, said that he hasn’t fully read the 400-page document submitted by the developers and he admitted he did not fully understand what he had read. Karen Jenne and Beula-Jean Shattuck, the only other members present of the five-member board, said they had read the document but did not fully understand it either.
Smith said that they’re other boards, such as the Public Service Board (PSB), which do understand.
Dan Lewis asked the select board if it was their job to try and understand the project.
“You, the select board, have an onus of responsibility to the best of your ability to serve all the citizens and taxpayers of this town. How can you do the job you were voted in to do without clear, precise, honest information to address the questions and concern any and all residents may have regarding the project?” Vicky Lewis asked as she read from her letter to the board.
The couple had attended the prehearing conference before the PSB on Monday, Feb. 13, in Montpelier, and said their questions and concerns continue to grow the more they know about the project.
"We didn’t have a knee-jerk reaction when we first heard about the project," Vicky Lewis noted.
Shattuck and Vicky Lewis stated that Bryan Davis, the farmer who wants to host one of the turbines, got a ride to the prehearing conference with Derby Zoning Administrator Bob Kelley. Shattuck and Lewis questioned if that was a conflict of interest.
Lewis said that Davis stands to benefit a significant amount financially from hosting a turbine, yet he road to Montpelier with a town employee who was paid to take the trip.
Kelley said it’s not a conflict because he is not voting on the project and he has the right to choose who rides in his car.
The board decided to vote on intervener status after Vicky Lewis asked them to do so a number of times. Members Jenne and Shattuck voted yes, while Smith gave a firm no.
Later, after hearing much information from the Lewises, Smith said he was not opposed to changing his vote but he wants to see the turnout at the Public Hearing with the PSB scheduled for March 1 at the Derby Elementary School. The select board set a meeting for March 2, 6:30 PM, to discuss seeking intervener status. The deadline to request the status is March 7.
The developers have an aggressive schedule for the project with the hope of securing certain financial incentives including federal tax credits. Vicky Lewis repeatedly questioned the pace of the project with so many questions left unanswered and concerns not addressed.
Smith said he talked with two individuals in Massachusetts who live near a 400-foot wind turbine, which was placed in a residential area. One said the turbine has created health problems with him, the other said that there is no problem.
Smith questioned why people didn't show up to express their opinions if they were that concerned about or opposed to the project.
Jenne noted that a petition regarding the project continues to circulate and currently has about 50 signatures.
The Lewises' concerns center on any potential effect to humans and animals, decrease in property values, electric rates, and if the chemicals used in blasting could effect the drinking water supply.
“They want to put industrial size turbines in a residential area," Jenne said.
When a neighboring land owner of the Buzzell property in Derby constructed a turbine on his property a number of years ago, the Buzzell property decreased in value, the Lewises stated at the meeting. They warned the board that if the project comes to fruition and they experience any health effects or a decrease in their property values, they would be back to discuss it with the board.
“It’s private property and people can do what they want,” Smith said.
Vicky Lewis offered a scenario for the board to consider in response. She asked what select men would say if she wanted to house hundreds of exotic wild animals on her property such as tigers and bears and if there would be a problem.
Smith responded “No, because it’s private property.”
Vicky Lewis adamantly disagreed with Smith and said that he wouldn’t allow it because it would pose a safety risk to residents.
The board has not taken an official side to the project. The Lewises noted that seeking intervener status does not mean that the board opposes the project, but it would give the board more opportunity to participate in the process, ask questions, and provide testimony.