by Joseph Gresser
copyright June 14, 2006
SHEFFIELD — Sheffield Selectmen and UPC Vermont Wind have come to an agreement. If the 20 wind generators proposed for Sheffield are built UPC will make an annual payment to the town of between $400,000 and $550,000.
In return Sheffield promises to support UPC’s application before the state Public Service Board (PSB) and cooperate with the company in its dealings with other state agencies.
Max Aldrich, chairman of the Sheffield Selectmen, said Tuesday that selectmen felt they were carrying out the desires of most Sheffield voters by signing the agreement.
“To this point the majority has supported the project,” he said, “and we, as a board, have supported the majority.”
Mr. Aldrich said the selectmen wanted “to negotiate a contract while we have leverage.” The town, he said, would not be able to get as good a deal if it waited until the PSB approves the project.
The agreement, Mr. Aldrich said, was largely worked out in private sessions. Mr. Aldrich said that he was given authority to act as negotiator for the town. Because he was the sole selectman present at many of the bargaining sessions the discussions were not selectmen’s meetings and, thus, were not required to be warned or opened to the public.
The Ridge Protectors, an organization that opposes the Sheffield project, issued a press release Tuesday objecting to the selectmen’s action. The selectmen, they say, should have put the contract to a public vote before signing it.
The group’s statement claims that the agreement is, in fact, a tax stabilization plan and, as such, must, by law, be approved by Town Meeting.
In their press release, Ridge Protectors says its members plan to write to Secretary of State Deb Markowitz asking her to insist on such a Town Meeting. The organization also plans to mount an “aggressive campaign” to request selectmen to resign and hold a special Town Meeting to elect replacements.
Greg Bryant, a spokesman for the group, said Tuesday there has been a “huge breach of trust between the voters and the select board.”
The agreement, Mr. Bryant said, puts in place a “gag order” for the town of Sheffield. “It basically turns this town into UPC.” he said, “We have no say.”
Mr. Aldrich said the selectmen decided not to call for a Town Meeting to approve the contract after receiving letters from the Ridge Protectors that said a second vote would not be the solution.
On December 1, 2005, Sheffield supported the wind turbines, 120 to 93, in a nonbinding straw vote.
Selectmen, Mr. Aldrich said, took the advice of members of the Ridge Protectors in choosing the lawyer who guided them through the negotiations. The board, Mr. Aldrich said, heard from Ridge Protector Rob Brown, that Richard Saudek came highly recommended. The board had been very satisfied with Mr. Saudek’s performance he said.
The contract calls for annual payments to the town based on the assessed value of the wind towers. If the towers are valued at $1-million per megawatt of capacity, and the generators are rated at 40 megawatts the town will receive $550,000 per year minus the municipal portion of property taxes.
At $2-million per megawatt the town will receive $400,000 per year minus the municipal portion of property taxes. In either event municipal property taxes would be paid to the town to make up the full negotiated payment.
UPC also agrees, in principal, to the creation of a decommissioning fund to pay for the removing turbines, transformers, and overhead power collection lines when the project is no longer in use. “Underground infrastructure” will be removed to a depth of two feet below grade and the area “will be grade to match adjacent contours, and allowed to revegetate naturally.” Roads built to serve the project will remain in place.
Other provisions of the contract call for baseline measurements to be made of noise levels once the wind turbines are in operation. This, the contract says, is to protect the company and the town from “future controversy over the noise levels from the wind farm.”
UPC agrees to submit plans to Sheffield officials for prior approval if they affect town roads or drainage near town highways. The company also agrees to repair damage to town roads, culverts or bridges caused by construction of the wind facility.
In return Sheffield is bound “to cooperate with UPC before the Public Service Board and other regulatory agencies.” Should UPC make changes to the project that are acceptable to the town, Sheffield is obligated to cooperate with UPC “in dealing with the State of Vermont taxing authorities and the Vermont legislature.”