Two Gales Road residents want to delay vote at special town meeting

By Bill Pearson
Staff Writer

    ABBOT — When First Selctman Mickey Knowles asked during the Feb. 19 selectmen’s meeting if the public had any questions about First Wind’s proposal to run high tension power lines along a section of the Gales Road, resident Mark Chapdelaine responded “Yeah, thousands.” But Chapdelaine and fellow Gales Road resident Tom Ronco don’t expect to hear many answers concerning the project’s potential health hazards during a Feb. 25 special town meeting regarding if the town should enter into a 20-year community benefits agreement with the Boston-based wind power company.

    Ronco wanted to delay the vote for up to 90 days so questions about health hazards could be researched before the town voted. He believed the selectmen and other residents who favored entering into the agreement which would pay the town $20,000 per year were being shorted-sighted in their support.

    “It really bothers me the town is rushing into this thing without doing our due diligence to find out more about the potential hazards,” Ronco said. “This is my question. ‘What is the hurry?’ Give me some evidence why we have to do this vote, aside that Mr. Fowler (First Wind project manager) wants to have it done.”

    Ronco was critical of the board’s decision to first schedule an information meeting on Feb. 5 after only discussing the CBA once with Fowler and scheduling a special town meeting to vote on the proposal 20 days later.

    The selectmen believed the timeframe was reasonable because similar high tension power lines were located throughout the country. They also believed federal and state agencies had failed to raise similar health concerns made by the two Gales Road residents.

    The board also heard from a resident who believed that power generated from the company’s 62-turbine wind farm in Somerset County would make the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil. Knowles believed that alternative energies like wind and solar will become more prevalent and similar transmission lines would be popping up throughout the entire state.

    “It’s the next big thing. The state wants to use more alternative energy so we’ll all being seeing these transmission lines. It’s just a matter of time,” Knowles said. “But, I’ll tell you what. If there is information out there that these transmission lines do pose a health risk then I’ll reconsider my position.”

    The two residents also wanted the selectmen to investigate Fowler’s assertion that First Wind can proceed with the project without receiving authorization from municipal officials to place their transmission poles within town right of ways.

    The town has no ordinance or a comprehensive plan which would restrict First Wind from placing their poles along the Gales Road right of ways. But Ronco didn’t want the selectmen to just take First Wind’s word for it.

    “I’d like to see where that is written. So far all he’s done is tell us he can do it. No one has asked him to show us where it’s written. Maybe during the special town meeting somebody will ask him to do so,” Ronco said.

    Town officials estimate the First Wind proposal would generate an additional $12,000 per year in property tax revenue.

    Selectman Basil Patterson believed the funds would help the town fund some special projects, but it wasn’t enough to jeopardize anybody’s health. He agreed with the other board members who didn’t see any compelling reasons made by health or government officials that precluded First Wind from proceeding with their project.

    In other action, the budget committee concluded their final recommendation for 2013 municipal spending. The committee has proposed a $388,140 municipal budget which is $45,730 less than this year’s. The voters will vote on this proposal during their regular town meeting on Monday, March 18.

    The board also approved to replace the downstairs toilet in the municipal building. The unit recently malfunctioned and flooded the downstairs.

    The selectmen will meet next at 7 p.m, on Tuesday, March 19 in the municipal building.

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