ANTRIM — The debate over the proposed Tuttle Hill wind farm is heating up again.
The town submitted an appeal Wednesday of the state Site Evaluation Committee’s denial of a permit to Antrim Wind Energy LLC for the project, and, in doing so, requested a rehearing of the application.
The appeal follows two contentious public hearings to discuss the acceptance of $40,000 from Antrim Wind to the town to offset the aesthetic impact of the industrial wind project by funding improvements to the surrounding Gregg Lake area.
Town Administrator Galen Stearns said the $40,000 is not a bribe, as some residents have said.
“The Selectmen’s position was we already agree to the project and we have already entered into a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement with Antrim Wind. This is an offer over and above what we would receive if the offer goes forward so there’s no reason not to take it,” Stearns said.
The appeal and request for a rehearing were crafted by Antrim Wind’s attorneys Orr & Reno, according to Select Board Chairman Gordon Webber. Antrim Wind requested the town appeal the decision in support of the LLC’s pending appeal, which has to be submitted by June 1, Webber said.
“We support renewable energy. We look forward to the revenue this project would bring to Antrim. And we are supportive of Antrim Wind LLC. As a company, we feel very comfortable with them,” Webber said.
At this point the town also has a legal obligation to the company, he said.
“Part of the contract we have with Antrim Wind, the town of Antrim will support Antrim Wind LLC during the SEC process,” he said.
Webber said he stood by his ejection of resident Janet McEwen from Monday night’s public hearing over the $40,000. He had her escorted out of the meeting by a police officer after she repeatedly called for a “point of order” while he was attempting to read a letter into the record.
The Monday meeting was the second public hearing over the $40,000. The first was April 29.
“The first meeting was very contentious. It was borderline out-of-control. A number of times people were yelling and screaming, getting up at the same time, shouting people down,” Webber said.
McEwen agrees the first meeting was out of control. She said she voiced her concern that town officials would be accepting a bribe from Antrim Wind if they took the money before the project had been approved by the state.
She also said she hasn’t come out for or against the wind project.
At Monday night’s hearing, Webber said those who had not spoken at the first meeting would be allowed to speak first and would have to keep their comments to their opinion about accepting the $40,000 — not the pros and cons of wind energy.
After they spoke, Webber began reading into the record letters sent in about the issue. Some of the letters went off topic, something he said he hadn’t anticipated when he laid the ground rules for the meeting. He was reading a pro-wind energy letter when McEwen raised her hand.
When Webber didn’t acknowledge her, she called for a point of order.
He banged his gavel and continued reading.
McEwen said she never raised her voice or stood up, but Webber banged his gavel and screamed at her. Webber said she stood up and shouted at him.
In the end, Webber asked the police officer in the back of the room to escort her out. At that point about eight people left in protest.
“I feel like there have been a lot of very, very questionable actions here. I feel very firmly Janet McEwen’s First Amendment rights were trampled here,” said resident Richard Block, who left the meeting in protest. “She didn’t stand. She didn’t shout. She didn’t do anything.”
When the hearing continued, the Select Board agreed to accept the money and send the appeal to the Site Evaluation Committee.
Earlier this year, the SEC denied an application for the 30-mega-watt capacity project that proposes ten 500-foot tall wind turbines along the Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain ridgelines, saying the impact to the surrounding conservation and open land would be too great.
Antrim Wind Energy is a subsidiary of Portsmouth-based Eolian Renewable Energy.