GRAFTON — The winds of change — and debate — are blowing through Grafton.
It took more than 90 minutes of heated discussion Tuesday, but voters finally agreed on a course of action on the proposed wind project in Grafton and Windham.
They tabled it.
The 70-plus residents agreed to “pass over” the article that called for the Grafton Select Board to continue “conversations” with the developers of the controversial project. That means the subject will return for a townwide vote in the future.
Iberdrola, a Spanish energy conglomerate, has formed a subsidiary, Atlantic Wind LLC, to investigate building a wind project on a ridge that straddles the Grafton-Windham town line.
Atlantic Wind recently received permission from the state Public Service Board to erect three wind-measuring or “met” towers on the 5,000 acres owned by Meadowsend Timber, the New Hampshire company that owns the large tract of land in Grafton and Windham.
Select Board Chairman Allan Sands fielded dozens of questions Tuesday about what the town knew about the project, and the intent of the two articles the board had placed on the 2013 town meeting warning.
Residents debated the role of the town in evaluating the wind project, with Friends of Grafton’s Heritage, a new citizen’s group, urging townspeople to defeat both articles.
After the vote, Liisa Kissel said she was pleased with the votes. She said the wording of the article was confusing.
“We wanted it defeated,” said Kissel, who said townspeople made “loud and clear people have serious concerns.”
After the votes, Sands said the town would continue to talk with Iberdrola and Meadowsend, to get the information the town needed to make an informed choice.
Residents who opposed the wind development urged outright rejection of the article, saying the town should oppose the project.
But other voters said they wanted more information about the project, even if they had serious doubts about it.
Back and forth the debate went, with residents even rejecting a move to vote on the contentious issue, preferring to keep the debate going.
Some people questioned the need for the article, saying the Select Board didn’t need voter approval to talk to the developers.
But Sands said the board wanted some indication of the voters’ sentiments after they had been bombarded with information from Friends of Grafton’s Heritage, which has been forceful and well-funded in opposing the project.
The group sponsored a well-attended public forum on the project Friday night, including free pizza for more than 100 people.
Sands said it was Meadowsend that had approached Iberdrola about putting a wind project in Grafton, not the other way around.
It was Keith Hermiz, deputy fire chief and chairman of the town’s capital budget committee, who finally was able to express the town’s frustration and get the debate resolved.
Hermiz said he wanted more information about the proposed wind project, but didn’t want to vote either “yes” or “no” on the article.
As a compromise, Hermiz suggested tabling the article, and it quickly gained near-unanimous agreement.
Hermiz said the wording of the article was “very nuanced,” making a vote difficult.
Moderator William Kearns, after consulting with his volunteer parliamentarian, said Robert’s Rules of Order called for tabling the issue, while state law defined the action as passing it over.
In the end, Kearns sided with state law.
Sands said after the meeting he felt the vote to table the issue essentially allowed the Select Board to continue to do its research on the project, including negotiating with Iberdrola and Meadowsend, until it comes back for a binding vote.
Grafton’s two state representatives, Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, and Rep. Matthew Trieber, D-Rockingham, both told the meeting they supported a Vermont Senate move to give towns more say in the state’s process of reviewing energy projects.
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