The Addison County Independent
by Gaen Murphree
NEW HAVEN – Over a year of negotiations culminated at Tuesday night's selectboard meeting, when the New Haven selectboard approved and then signed an agreement with developers of the Vermont Green Line to site a 400 megawatt power line converter station in New Haven.
The Vermont Green Line will bring wind and hydro power from upstate New York into the New England grid at the VELCO substation in New Haven. The deal is expected to funnel millions of dollars into town coffers in exchange for allowing construction of the huge converter station.
"I think we have worked hard to protect the neighbors and to flesh out the best agreement that we can for the town as a whole," said selectboard Chair Kathy Barrett. "There are some neighbors that are upset about this. But hopefully it will not be as bad as they are envisioning. It was a long, hard struggle to get through all this, but I think we did the best we could."
Barrett said the selectboard expects VGL representatives to sign "very shortly."
Voting to approve the deal, along with Barrett, were Selectmen John Roleau and Steve Dupoise (who attended via Skype). Selectman Jim Walsh was present but simply voted "present" on the agreement.
Selectman Doug Tolles was absent. Also in attendance was attorney Richard Saudek, National Grid representative Joe Rossignoli and representatives from Citizens Energy, which joined Anbaric Transmission and National Grid as partners on the VGL project in late August.
Barrett emphasized that the agreement just signed hammers out the details on the term sheet agreed to last April, but doesn't add to or change the substance of that document. Important agreements in the April 14 term sheet include:
Last May, New Haven residents approved the project, in a survey reporting 252 in favor and 182 against.
Since getting the go-ahead from townspeople, the New Haven selectboard's negotiating team – Dupoise, former selectwoman Carole Hall, and attorneys Richard Saudek and Cindy Hill – have worked out the fine print.
Among the important details now worked out, Barrett and Dupoise highlighted the following:
The agreement, said Barrett, is very detailed about landscaping required to screen the converter station. Dupoise said the agreement calls for close to 300 trees being planted and spells out where they should go. It also stipulates that VGL annually look at the landscaping and replace any trees that are dying or unhealthy (see the full agreement with this story online at addisonindependent.com).
Dupoise also explained that VGL and New Haven must agree on a construction "lay down" area before developers go to the Public Service Board to apply for a Certificate of Public Good, but that VGL has not yet provided New Haven with the location of the lay down area.
"I've been very open with them about not piling this stuff up next to somebody's backyard where they're going to be coming in and out with equipment all the time, keeping all the noise and the dust to a minimum in the vicinity of residents that are there," said Dupoise.
VGL has agreed to return 38 years into the 40-year agreement and renegotiate with the town over whether it wants another 40 years. VGL has also agreed to restore the property to its present condition should it ever decide to shut down.
"If they decide to discontinue this project, everything has to come down, dirt has to be put back, grass has to be planted and it has to go back to the way it was," said Dupoise.
Barrett also mentioned that Citizens Energy will use part of its profits to assist low-income Vermonters with energy-efficiency measures.
"We are asking them to look at Addison County and New Haven first," said Barrett.
In terms of the arduous road to negotiate the agreement, Dupoise said:
"There's winners and losers in this whole process. The benefit for the town certainly is the financial package, which... which will effectively wipe out the town portion of the tax. Right now our budget runs about $1 million a year so we're looking at a $400,000 surplus every year."
Dupoise continued, "The down side of this is that there are people's lives that are affected, people who are close by. Hopefully we have set up a compensation package for them where the majority of them feel they weren't left out in the cold. As much good as there's done, there's certainly damage that's done – and I recognize that.
"That's why we had a vote of the whole town to go through this project to make sure that the town in general was in favor of it. We're cognizant of the fact that there are people who have been affected by this negatively, and hopefully we have created a package for them that will compensate them for that."
National Grid's Rossignoli said that the partners expect to have the agreement signed within a day or two, and they expect to then file for a Certificate of Public Good on or before Oct. 21.
"We made a commitment over a year ago that we would collaborate and partner with the community to shape the project," Rossignoli said. "That's what we've done and that's what we will continue to do."
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at firstname.lastname@example.org