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May 24. 2013 1:21AM

'Back-door' deal with wind farm loses in court

ANTRIM — A Hillsborough judge has voided an agreement between the town and a Portsmouth-based renewable energy company, saying the pact was reached during illegal meetings.

Residents Mary Allen, Gordon Allen, Charles Levesque, Janice Longgood and Martha Pinello contended the town violated right-to-know laws in negotiating the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement with Antrim Wind LLC. The project would erect 10 wind turbines on the Tuttle Hill-Willard Mountain ridgeline.

Mary Allen said the group filed the suit after seeking town emails to piece together how the PILOT was negotiated. The group was willing to pay a $1 a page and then found out there were 1,300 pages, so it requested the pages in discovery.

“Going through them there was clear evidence that there had been email meetings, phone calls, meetings that had never been posted,” Mary Allen said. “It was all there, but you had to dig. ”

Selectman Gordon Webber said Thursday, “The Antrim Board of Selectmen (is) disappointed with the decision. We do not agree with the court’s decision; however, it is the court’s decision and we will not appeal it.”

A PILOT agreement would have made the proposed large-scale wind energy project financially feasible, while ensuring the town benefited, Webber said.

The project would have brought in $1 million a year without a PILOT agreement, Webber said.

But after a few years, the structure would have greatly depreciated to the point where very little money would have come in.

Allen and Levesque said their group is not for or against the wind energy project, but opposed to the closed-doors tactics used to create the PILOT, which would have hurt the town since Antrim is part of a nine-town cooperative school district that calculates a town’s tax obligation using a formula based on student population and the town’s assessed value.

Antrim would have ended up subsidizing the project, Allen said.

“My question is, why are we giving such a sweetheart deal to renewable energy,” Allen said.

Earlier this year, the state Site Evaluation Committee denied Antrim Wind’s application for a permit, saying that the impact to the conservation land surrounding the project would be too great.

The town and Antrim Wind are seeking a rehearing to overturn that decision.

mpierce@newstote.com


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