DERBY, VT - A special meeting was held Wednesday night to decide if the Derby Select Board would endorse a motion to direct attorney Richard Saudek to open “discussions” with Encore Redevelopment over the proposed construction of two 430 feet tall wind turbines in the town.
The answer was "no."
The Public Service Board (PSB) has set a deadline of May 14 for the board to either enter into negotiations with Encore or vote to not support the proposal. An initial attempt to vote on the project at the regular Monday meeting was met with strong opposition as the subject had not been previously warned prior to the meeting.
Board member Laura Dolgin read a carefully crafted motion directing Saudek to discuss an offer by Encore. She added a disclaimer to her motion, “It is premature for the select board to take a position at this time.” Dolgin emphasized that Saudek is not negotiating with Encore, but gathering facts and information on behalf of the board.
After a reluctant second by board member Steve Gendreau in order to open discussions between board members, board chair Brian Smith reminded the approximately 50 people in attendance that time will be allowed for public comment, but the meeting was not to be interrupted while the board was in open session.
Gendreau pushed the board to make a decision that night as they were under a deadline by the PBS to signal their support or opposition for the project before a hearing gets underway in Montpelier.
He acknowledged that time is running short if Saudek is to start discussions with Encore and they may need to file for an extension.
In support of the motion, Dolgin argued, “I suspect the project will go on with or without us... If we don't negotiate we'll get nothing. All we're doing at this point is gathering information.”
But Gendreau disagreed, stating, “If we vote for the project, the PBS hearings will continue. If we vote no, the PSB may not move forward and approve the project.” He also pointed out that Encore should also negotiate with Stanstead, Holland and the Village of Derby Line "out of fairness.” Gendreau noted that if that were the case, the project wouldn't get done this year.
Stanstead and Derby Line have already voted n,o stated Board Member Karen Jenne. “There isn't anything to negotiate.”
Dolgin held fast to her motion arguing that Saudek would be talking about future guarantees, safety issues, and money, which brought a curt response from board member Beulah Shattuck that “Derby Line is not interested in money.” Shattuck said the residents of Derby Line are interested in health and safety issues, not financial compensation.
“I didn't think we'd get into all of this conflict when Encore first brought forth their proposal,” said Gendreau. “It should be out of a residential area, a mile and a half from where people live.” He wondered, “Is $70,000 a year compensation enough for the aggravation? I have sympathy with our Canadian neighbors; I don't want to back stab them. It doesn't matter if it's two towers or twenty...; it's all the same.”
Chair Brian Smith reminded board members that the motion is only for Saudek to enter into discussions with Encore. “That's his job - gathering information.”
But Jenne and Shattuck would have none of that. “Discussion or negotiation, it's the same thing,” said Shattuck.
Smith then called the question as to whether to direct Saudek to enter “discussions” with Encore over compensation and other issues. The board voted against, 3 to 1, with Dolgin in favor and Smith not voting.
The meeting was then opened for 15 minutes for public comment. Chris Blais opened by noting the Village of Derby Line residents had voted against the project 24-9. He urged the select board to honor their vote.
Vickie Lewis, a member of the Derby Wind Committee, read a statement detailing why the committee is opposed to the project. She included health impacts, turbine siting, property values, potential liability to the town, and town unity as issues the committee researched before arriving at their decision.
Holland resident John Wagner said his house is 5100 feet from one of the proposed turbine sites. Wagner charged Encore was less than truthful with him about the project's impact. “They claim I'm 7400 feet from the turbine site,” he stated. “It's not true.”
He also wondered what cost you can put on destroying someone's property. “I strongly urge you to stop the process and not have this built in our community.”
Encore spokesperson Nick Richardson spoke in favor of the project and the process. He said the company was deeply respectful of the process and has tried to communicate effectively with the neighbors. He added that, like any project, there is a lot of concern and fear early on. But, “given time and access to information, people can change their minds.... We need to have a healthy debate and hope the discourse will be useful and truthful.”
As a result of the select board's decision, the town will not enter into any further discussions with Encore, signaling to the PBS their opposition to the project.