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Pressedto take a position, Alexandria selectmen reject wind farm tax agreement

by Thomas P. Caldwel

ALEXANDRIA — With a majority of the residents opposing the development of a wind farm here, the Board of Selectmen concluded Tuesday night's meeting by agreeing to send a letter to Iberdrola Renewables, Inc., and to the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) stating their rejection of a proposed contract with the developer.
The selectmen had withheld their own opinions of Iberdrola's proposal for 23 wind towers in Alexandria and Danbury — eight of them within Alexandria — in order to hear first from their constituents and to give fair consideration to the company's proposal. Their reluctance to openly take a position, however, was disturbing to the emotionally charged crowd that filled the Town Hall.
When pressed to say what they were hearing from the people, the selectmen agreed that most people were opposed to the plan. Asked about their own positions, Donald Sharp said, "I've always been against it. But if this crowd said the opposite, and were in favor of it, I'd change my position because I serve you."
George Tuthill had a more measured response, focusing only on the company's proposal for payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT). Iberdrola offered to make even payments of $11,000 per megawatt of installed capacity the first year, with 2.5 percent increases in the ensuing years, rather than making regular tax payments based on assessed value. "We would give away millions with this agreement," Tuthill said.
Chair Kenneth Hall said he was still trying to keep an open mind and he was therefore "on the fence".
"I don't think you're on the fence any more," one person in the audience called out. "I think you got pushed off."
When State Representative Paul Simard of Bristol asked, "Would you be willing to refuse that offer and send a letter saying so to Iberdrola and the SEC?" all three selectmen said they would.
Much of the meeting focused on the power of the SEC, which many felt would approve the wind farm even over the objections of the towns affected. Fear of the loss of home rule has prompted some residents to seek help from outside experts to help them create a "rights-based ordinance" or "RBO" to provide a legal basis for the people to have the final say.
Roland Richards, who has spent a considerable amount of time touring wind farms and believes they provide a viable solution to New Hampshire's energy needs as aging electric plants retire, complained about having outsiders dictate how the town addresses its issues. Choosing an RBO to counter the SEC is not promoting home rule, he maintained.
Richards said much of the information circulating about wind farms is incorrect and he said the town should consider the PILOT agreement as a good place to start, but that it could look to do better.
Others said the proposal wasn't worth considering, as it favored the utility. While the company set a fee at $11,000 per megawatt of installed power, it also put in provisions for reducing that payment in the event of "force majeure" — typically acts of God such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods. In the proposed agreement, Iberdrola included such things as strikes, lockouts, fires, breakage or accidents to machinery, and even "orders of any kind of any governmental authority or any civil or military authority". That language would absolve the company of payments if the State Fire Marshal imposed a cease-and-desist order, as it did with the company's Groton facility, for failing to file the proper documentation and provide required safety features.
The agreement did offer an additional $35,000 for the project substation and $60,000 in payments prior to commercial operation, and noted that other fees, such as land use change taxes and timber taxes, would be paid in addition to the PILOT funds. In all, the company estimated it would pay the town $5.9 million over 15 years.
In addition to the PILOT agreement, the company had two other proposals for the town to consider. One would pay up to $10,000 in legal and consulting expenses the town would incur while assessing local impacts and benefits. The other addressed issues ranging from emergency response to damage to town roads during the construction phase.
Speakers said both of those agreements fell short of covering the real expenses involved.
Jim White noted that Iberdrola is being sued "all over the world" and he asked why the town would even consider negotiating with the company.
Carol Jewell said that, instead of talking about money, the town should be talking about the quality of life that would be lost if wind turbines were placed on all the ridges.
Tom Fisher of the Appalachian Mountain Club's Cardigan Lodge said the AMC is filing as an intervenor to oppose the project. "The construction of an industrial-scale wind farm in such close proximity to a premier outdoor recreational destination would significantly degrade the quality of the visitor experience," the AMC said in a position paper. "At their closest, the 492-foot-tall turbines will be less than four miles from the summit of Cardigan Mountain, AMC's Cardigan Lodge, and Newfound Lake — a distance at which they will be an overwhelmingly dominant and incongruous feature in this relatively natural landscape."
Bridgewater Selectman Terry Murphy said his board has voted to intervene, as well, and is willing to contribute to the cost of studies.
"Typically, a PILOT agreement is short-term, in order to encourage a business to locate in a town; not something to go out 20 years," Murphy said.
Janet Cote of Bristol said that town's selectmen will likely take up the matter of joining as intervenors, as they see this as a regional issue, not something limited to limited to Alexandria and Danbury.
Gene Banks of Bridgewater said he was always interested in wind power and he supported the Groton project, but he learned a lot after that project was built. "Many things they predict don't happen," he said. "The decommissioning costs are huge, and it dwarfs the small amount of money you'll get."
When it was clear that the selectmen would not approve the PILOT agreement as presented, Murphy urged them to have a fallback position in case the project does win SEC approval. "The SEC can't force to you to agree to this PILOT agreement," he said. "You can set the terms. You should do the research to be prepared in case they do get it through."

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 January 2014 01:24

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Judge agrees to postpone Lafond trial to May 5

LACONIA — Following a hearing in Belknap County Superior Court on Tuesday, Justice James D. O'Neill, III of Belknap County Superior Court granted the request of Attorney Mark Sisti, who is defending Amy Lafond against charges that her reckless and negligent driving caused the death of one teenage girl and severely injured another, to postpone her trial.

Originally scheduled to begin with the selection of a jury on February 3, the trial will now begin on May 5.

O'Neill denied Sisti's first request to continue the trial, which was scheduled to begin with a final pre-trial conference on January 13 and selection of a jury on February 3. Sisti, who was retained as defense council on November 22, told the court he was scheduled to try cases in Merrimack County and Rockingham County in January and February. Belknap County Attorney Melissa C. Guldbrandsen assented to the request. However, O'Neill found the grounds insufficient.

Sisti asked the court to reconsider the denial, this time arguing that the schedule did not afford him enough time to either "relate competent advice to his client with regard to the decision whether to plead guilty (or) to proceed to trial — let alone represent her at trial." Referring to the right to a fair trial guaranteed by the state and federal constitutions, he concluded that "to go forward ensures the defendant deficient representation that will undoubtedly spur unnecessary litigation."

With about 15 members of Lilyanna Johnson's relatives and friends in the courtroom, Sisti amplified his arguments at the hearing on Tuesday. In terms of difficulty, Sisti described the case as an eight on a10-point scale, noting that it will take at least 100 hours to review the evidence in the case, much of which he described as technical in nature and posing "scientific challenges."
Guldbrandsen did not contest the request. "I do see my duty to ensure she gets a competent defense," said Guldbrandsen, agreeing that the case is complex and technical. "It's my duty to see she gets a fair trial."
When O'Neill asked her how the victims' families felt about an extension, Guldbrandsen said that they are "frustrated" and submitted a "memo of input from the victims' family regarding continuance expressing their desire that the trial go forward as soon as possible.
Lafond, 52, is charged with manslaughter and two counts of negligent homicide arising from an incident on April 19 when she allegedly drove into two teenage girls on Messer Street, killing Lilyanna Johnson and seriously injuring Allyssa Miner. She is also charged with several drug offenses and traffic violations.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 January 2014 01:20

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Barnstead approaches Gilmanton about sharing some municipal services

GILMANTON — With the impending retirement of Barnstead Fire Chief Mark Tetreault, a representative from Barnstead's Selectboard came to town Monday night to explore the possibility of a regional approach to public safety

"Both our chiefs are retiring," James Barnard told the Gilmanton board, referring to retired Barnstead Police Chief Ken Borgia who left at the end of 2013 and Tetreault who is leaving to become the fire chief in Lynnfield, Mass. at the end of the month.

"Before we start replacing them, (we want to know) if you feel like sitting down and hashing this through," Barnard continued.

Gilmanton selectmen were interested but definitely non-committal.

"I can see some good points and some bad points," said Selectman Brett Currier, after Town Administrator Arthur Capella said bulk buying for diesel, oil, sand, and salt could benefit the bottom line in both communities.

"We have an ungodly amount of equipment," said Barnard, referring to the number of fire and police vehicles available to the Barnstead Public Safety department.

"We do too," said Currier.

In what he saw as a possible negative, Currier said that a regional or combined police and or fire department could increase the total number of employees to the levels that could allow for the formation of labor unions.

This is not the first time the Barnstead selectmen have addressed a regional approach to policing. In 2011, selectmen approached the town with a plan developed by Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin that would have put the responsibility for Barnstead's policing under the domain of the sheriff's department.

The plan called for a consolidation of usable equipment including vehicles, creating a sheriff's sub-station in the building used by the Barnstead Police Department, and incorporating existing Barnstead police officers into the county employments ranks.

The measure, which went to the voters in March in the form of an article on the annual town warrant was defeated by a margin of two-to-one.

Currier also said he would not be ready to discuss any potential cooperative agreement between Gilmanton and Barnstead without first having a conversation with the existing department heads. His desire to reach out to department heads was echoed by Selectmen Ralph Lavin and Don Guarino.

"We'll talk to our department heads," said Lavin, who said someone would get in touch with Barnard and the Barnstead selectmen.

Capella said the earliest that the town of Gilmanton could even consider such a proposal would be in 2015.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 12:54

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LaFond's attorney makes second arguement for more time - 430

LACONIA — Amy Lafond's attorney, Mark Sisti, yesterday argued in favor of her request yesterday for a 90-day extension to give him time to prepare for her defense at trial.

With about 15 members of Lilyanna Johnson's family and friends in the courtroom, Sisti asked Judge James O'Neill III to reconsider his previous ruling that scheduled jury selection for February 2.

"I can't give her any professional advice at this point," Sisti said, appealing directly to O'Neill as a judge who is also a former trial lawyer who has been involved with similar complex cases.

Sisti was hired in the beginning of December. In his first motion for an extension, he said he had a scheduling conflict with a different case. O'Neill ruled that wasn't enough for him to grant Sisti an extension under the new rules on extensions issued by Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau.

In terms of difficulty, Sisti described the case as an "8" out of "10", saying there are at least 100 hours of recorded evidence, accident reconstruction reports, as well as additional preparation time needed. He also said he may need to secure expert witness testimony.

Lafond faces numerous charges, including one count each of negligent and reckless homicide stemming from a car crash in April at the Messer Street bridge that claimed the life of 14-year-old Johnson and severely injured 14-year-old Allyssa Miner, both students at the nearby Middle School.

Belknap County Prosecutor Melissa C. Guldbrandsen said she wouldn't object to a 90-day extension.

"I do see my duty to ensure she gets a competent defense," said Guldbrandsen, agreeing that the case is complex and technical. "It's my duty to see she gets a fair trial."

She also said she wouldn't want to have a possible conviction challenged because of claim that Lafond was denied effective counsel.

When O'Neill asked her how the victims' families felt about an extension, Guldbrandsen said that they are "frustrated" and don't support any delays.

She said that in their minds, the incident occurred in April of 2012 and they are growing impatient.

She said that when Lafond was represented by the Public Defender's Office she was aware they were also likely to seek an extension.

Sisti assured O'Neill he would be ready in April to try the case, as did Guldbrandsen.

After yesterday's hearing, Guldbrandsen met briefly with the people who came to court to hear the oral argument. A few members of the family said they hadn't designated an official spokesperson and had no comments for the media at this time.

O'Neill is expected to rule on Sisti motion for reconsideration on Wednesday.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 12:47

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