SWANTON – On Tuesday Swanton voters voiced their disfavor with a proposed wind-powered, electrical generation facility to be cited in their town. By a vote of 731 to 160, Swantonians said, no, they did not want Swanton Wind to install turbines on Rocky Ridge.
The non-bonding vote was requested by opponents of the project and ordered by the selectboard, who have coalesced in opposition to the project in recent months.
Selectboard chair Dan Billado explained: “We really hope that this vote sends a message to the developer, the governor, and the Public Service Board. We don’t support this project and we now can show that the town doesn’t support this project or any project like this.”
Selectboard member Joel Clark, who has written two letters to the Messenger editor in the last month imploring voters to oppose the project, concurred with Billado:
“Seeing these results sends a strong message; we know what the people think of this project. We don’t know where we will go from here, and we certainly don’t want to unnecessarily spend taxpayer money opposing the project when it seems so obvious that no permit should be granted, but we’ve made no decisions yet on how we will proceed.”
The vote has no legal sway over whether Swanton Wind can propose the project or whether it receives its Certificate of Public Good – that is a job for the Public Service Board (PSB). The vote is a symbolic measure that opponents hope will persuade regulators that the project is not a good fit for Vermont.
“We don’t want this to be a divisive issue,” said selectboard member William “Turk” Thompson. “No one here is a bad guy, not the opponents and not the Belisles (proprietors of Swanton Wind). The Belisles are making a business decision, which is their right. We have a different view on whether that should be approved. That doesn’t mean they are a bad family or that everything else he has done is bad. What it means is that we disagree on this one point.”
Anthony Iarrapino, an attorney for Swanton Wind, said that the conciliatory tone struck by the selectboard seemed insincere.
“This whole matter has been problematic for the Belisles,” Iarrapino said of the developers. “It is disingenuous for the board to say those things after they made false allegations of permit violations. I think there has been a lot of hostility from the board. They are using town resources to create a website that is spreading misinformation and they called for this vote before the facts are in.
“Frankly, the result is not surprising giving the amount of misinformation and hostility.”
Iarrapino also pointed out that the turnout was “less than a third of registered voters in Swanton.”
The referendum turned out just under 25 percent of the town’s voters. Last year’s general election saw 43 percent of registered voters cast their ballots.
“It doesn’t change our approach one way or the other,” Iarrapino said. “The Belisles are committed to moving forward.”
“We would welcome a change in tone from the selectboard to encourage open-mindedness and respect for science and facts,” he continued. “We think that this project is in the best interest of Vermont and in the best interest of Swanton.”
The vote contained a second article which asked Swantonians whether they would support a change in state law to give town’s control over whether renewable energy projects will be permitted. The voters responded in the affirmative, 744 to 142.
Swanton representatives Brian Savage and Marianna Gamache have mentioned on several occasions that they planned to introduce legislation next session, which would deliver more local control to towns.
“The result is not a big surprise,” Travis Belisle said. “I have no problem with opposition, but the opposition here has used personal attacks misinformation to push voters their way. I think having a public vote is a great way for the community to express themselves, but I wish they had waited until all the facts were in so that people could see that this project is good for Vermont and for Swanton.
“What I want is a respectful discussion. We don’t get to resolutions by condemning legitimate ideas and disrespectful tone.”