On wind: let’s go against the national trend of polarization

Editors,

The citizens of the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and Vermont as a whole are embroiled in a seriously divisive battle over the region’s ridgelines and the mountaintops, as big business attempts to line them with industrial wind turbines.  Neighbors and former friends are at odds and there is little middle ground between those who despise the very thought of gigantic structures lining the mountaintops and those who see the wind turbines as the solution to all our energy and global warming challenges.

I don’t know!  I have read widely on the issues and although there is ample argument put forth both for and against these projects, I cannot decide; is it good?  Is it bad?  Is it like most issues in which there are elements of both?  I do know that I would feel better if I thought these wind projects were being done for Vermonters rather than for the political expediency of the politicians and GMP.…

As I look out on every clear day from my home, on the opposite ridge, to observe the construction of the Lowell wind project I am amazed at the human endeavor that has been able over the past 15 months turn a mountain range into a commercial entity of this magnitude.  I have made 31 hikes to the mountaintops at every vantage point from the southernmost point to the northernmost point, a distance of three and a half miles, in order to see for myself the entire impact.

During that same period my wife and I have made nearly the same number of trips off trail behind Mount Pisgah, in Westmore, “Searching for Arcadia.”  The Arcadia Retreat was a large and elegant hotel built to cater to artists and writers and the like.  It was built on a 400-acre farm that had been cleared and included house, barn and outbuildings.  The hotel, built in 1895, burned down around 1923, was built way up high at 2,200 feet of elevation on Mt. Pisgah.  Although the Arcadia Retreat could be seen for miles with what was described in the advertising of the day, as expansive lawns, and although it was built on massive stone foundations, and although I already knew where it was, it took me 18 hikes to the site with maps, compass, and the assistance of Google Earth, before I could assure myself I had definitely found it.  I wonder if in the early 1890s the residents of the area supported the project or did they complain about taking a fine farm and ruining it with a luxury hotel for wealthy ner-do-wells?  Again, I don’t know, but I do know that there is almost nothing there today to show for that human activity.

I am not equating the changes made by horse, ox, and hand on Mt. Pisgah, to what modern equivalents have done with 30-40 gigantic earth machines and three quarters of a million pounds of explosives to the top of the Lowell Mountain ridgeline, but I am asking that people consider the loss of community and relationships to be on par with our loss of a natural resource as represented by a “pristine” ridgeline.  In my 30 trips up essentially all sides of the mountain range I have observed cellar holes, very old stumps from logging, log roads, old fences, stone cairns, old metal gas and oil cans, and three very old cream cans, one on the very top of the ridge just north of the northernmost turbine.  I observed, near the southern end between turbine 1 and 3 what appeared to be a four-to-six-acre rectangle of maple trees sitting right on top of the ridge and which appeared to have been cultivated there by some past steward of the land.  I have followed the Catamount Trail over the ridge from Lowell and south down along the eastern side of the ridge on its way to Craftsbury.  Not the least bit incidentally that trail basically parallels the famous Bayley-Hazen Road that was slashed through the truly pristine forest more than 230 years ago.…

I am proud of the stubborn Vermonters, both those who were born here and those who moved here for the love of it and became Vermonters.  I am proud to be in a place where people will fight for what they believe is their right to use and protect their land and where they are willing to perform civil disobedience to stand for their beliefs.

I am, however, certainly not proud to view the vicious attacks made by some of my fellow stubborn Vermonters on other stubborn Vermonters who have a differing opinion of what is “right.”  I am not proud of comments made about those who care enough to attempt to protect their land and interests or the denigrating comments about the protesters who stood for their own beliefs.…

My neighbors, friends, and I lament the loss of this Green Mountain Vermont resource, but what really defined Vermont was not only its physical makeup but rather it was its people.  The strong families, communities, and sense of shared purpose that took this land from extreme wilderness to a modern, proactive, self-sufficient state through the 1800s and a major influence far beyond its size for the rest of our country from revolution through today.  And that is precisely what we Vermonters are at stake of losing through this turmoil.  The relationships, the synergistic power of community, and the intense drive of public service; for the good of the community not for the good of myself!

In my lifetime the turbines will be there, in the next lifetime they will, if deemed worth it, remain, but in a few human lifetimes will there be visible sign?  Probably not in any way that really matters.  However the human relationships lost or cultivated will affect the “Vermonters” a lot longer and more severely than the physical ones.

Let’s go against the national trend of polarization in all endeavors and allow our neighbors to disagree with us without rancor.  We cannot mandate such action through any legislative means, order our neighbors to be tolerant, or to otherwise control others.  We CAN however change ourselves instantly.  Refuse to denigrate your friend, political foe, or competitor.  Tolerate differences and understand we go into it together and will come out of it together and if we withhold judgment and let some time pass we may well learn that we can go on together as well.

Let us search for our Vermont Arcadia, in both aesthetics and in philosophically.

Sincerely,

Dick Spaulding

Albany

(Until 1815, the town of Lutterloh)

 

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Editorial: Three cheers for Bill Stenger

Bill Stenger. left, and U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle  10-3-12

Watching Bill Stenger over the past few years has been a bit like watching our grandson develop Boardwalk and Park Place in Monopoly, a game he recently took up.

The difference, of course, is that Mr. Stenger, co-owner and chief executive officer of the Jay Peak resort, is using real money.

Well, sort of real money.  Here’s the difference:

People who dream up interesting ways to make money — and Mr. Stenger is clearly one of those — have to find the capital to bring their dreams to reality.

Investors are generally the source.  But investors assume some of the risk of the venture.  That inclines them to take a close, skeptical look at any proposal, at the likelihood that it will make them some money rather than lose them their shirts.

In the EB-5 visa program, Mr. Stenger found a route to investors whose motivations are entirely different.  They are foreigners who want a Green Card that will give them the right to live and work in this country and in time, if they choose, to apply for citizenship.

The federal visa program and this area’s poor economy put Mr. Stenger in a position to offer these privileges at half a million dollars per investor.  He has taken their money and put it into hotels, a golf course, an ice arena and, most surprising of all, a very substantial and, we are informed, exciting water park.

Now Mr. Stenger proposes to take a great deal more such money, more than half a billion dollars, indeed, and spread the wealth to Burke Mountain and the city of Newport.

As bystanders to this performance we can only watch with a mixture of awe and skepticism.  Awe because Mr. Stenger has so far proceeded with such inventive enthusiasm to do exactly the things he promised to do with the money.  And he has done them in fine style.

Our skepticism reflects the very lack of skepticism with which Mr. Stenger’s investors part with their money.  If the Green Card is the true return on their investment, how much do they care if Mr. Stenger’s remarkably optimistic plans meet all the usual tests with which major capital projects are vetted?

Take the demand for new retail space in Newport, for example.  Is business poor because the storefront buildings Mr. Stenger proposes to replace are in poor shape?  Or does their condition reflect the problem that business is poor?

Mr. Stenger has clearly taken the position made famous by the movie Field of Dreams:  If you build it, they will come.

Such concerns are moderated by the fact that Mr. Stenger is not playing with the money of local citizens, nor our local financial institutions.  Failure would be a sad and discouraging thing to watch, but not a vortex into which we would all swirl down into economic ruin.

And there is every reason to cheer Mr. Stenger on to continued success.  First among them is his effort to provide jobs that might keep our children and grandchildren in this community, and lure back those who have already left us.

Mr. Stenger’s deep involvement in local vocational education, and his service as chairman of the statewide Next Generation Commission, with the mission of developing a plan “to encourage Vermonters to live and work in Vermont,” put his dedication to this issue beyond doubt.

The catch in the EB-5 visa program is that each $500,000 investment will have to, directly or through its economic impact on the area, create ten permanent jobs.  In very rough terms, the investments just announced by Mr. Stenger would have to generate 10,000 jobs.  Using August’s figures, that would amount to a 37 percent increase in the jobs available in the Newport and St. Johnsbury labor market areas.

As to the concern that Mr. Stenger’s focus on tourism will turn us all into a servant class for rich visitors, we would appeal to history.

Research as casual as a study of old pictures of Newport and Barton make it clear that, in the heyday of passenger rail service and before the Great Depression, this area and its hotels catered to a great many visitors.

If natural beauty and our odd style of hospitality are among our chief assets, economic logic demands that we put them to work.

Besides, his latest plans include expansion of the local airport and some hi-tech research and manufacturing facilities.

In summary, Bill Stenger has taken, and will continue to take, great risks with other people’s money.  If the best we can do is to cheer him on, then that is exactly what we should do. — C.B.

 

 

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