New Haven asks questions of Anbaric on Vermont Green Line
NEW HAVEN — “This is a large project and there’s a lot of pros and cons,” said New Haven selectboard chair Kathy Barrett, as Anbaric Transmission continues to woo New Haven as the site of its proposed $150 million converter station and as New Haven continues to weigh its options.
“There’s a lot of information out there — accurate and inaccurate. I think that everyone has to become as informed as possible and make their own personal decision.”
She was talking about the Vermont Green Line, an electric cable that would move wind and hydro power generated in New York and Canada into the New England grid via a large converter station in New Haven. Town officials and residents are wrestling with the costs and benefits of hosting the converter station (see sidebar, “What is the Vermont Green Line”).
The seriousness with which New Haven residents are taking that civic responsibility was demonstrated last Tuesday night when more than 75 community members turned out town offices for a question and answer session with Vermont Green Line representatives, as part of the selectboard’s regularly scheduled meeting.
So many people turned out that the crowd spilled into the hallway, even after the selectboard added additional chairs and the entire crowd shifted to try and make room for as many residents as possible. Some attendees even asked that the meeting be moved right then and there to a larger venue but Barrett explained that the gym was not available.
Everyone did the best they could to accommodate their neighbors, so that as many attendees as possible could hear Joe Rossignoli of Anbaric’s investment partner National Grid answer a series of 69 questions that had been compiled by the selectboard.
Anbaric continues to dangle ever-larger carrots in front of New Haven residents. At the Nov. 17 meeting, Anbaric promised the fire department up to $3 million for the construction of a new fire station, and, according to an email from Anbaric’s communications consultant, Alex MacLean, “any new equipment and training that is necessary from the construction of the project.”
At the Nov. 3 selectboard meeting, Anbaric unveiled what it called its “benefits package” to New Haven: $2.3 million a year in nonresident education taxes; $300,000 a year in municipal taxes; and an additional $700,000 a year for 20 years that the town could use as it wanted.
Anbaric’s tax numbers are based on New Haven tax rates from 2014 and an estimated value of $150 million for the converter station. In its first presentation to the town in August 2015, Anbaric estimated the value of the converter station at $100 million to $150 million.
TAX NUMBERS ANALYSIS
Using tax rates from 2015 and plugging in the range of estimated values for the converter station, Anbaric would pay the state of Vermont anywhere from $1,521,000 to $2,281,500 a year in education taxes, depending on the final value of the converter station.
It would pay the town of New Haven anywhere from $271,600 to $358,050 a year in municipal taxes.
Estimating the value of the converter station at $130 million, the Vermont Green Line would likely have reduced this year’s municipal tax rate by a third from $0.3750 per $100 in assessed value to $0.2508. This change in tax rate would have reduced the municipal property taxes on a $200,000 New Haven home from $750 to $502.
Selectboard member Doug Tolles cautioned residents at last Tuesday’s meeting to think carefully about the big numbers that Anbaric is throwing around, especially as concerns the largest piece of any Vermonter’s tax bill: taxes for education.
“Whatever Anbaric would pay to the state of Vermont in Ed taxes is irrelevant to New Haven,” Tolles said in a follow-up email to the Independent that echoed his comments at the meeting. “The money goes right through the town treasurer to Montpelier. Then it gets added to the huge bucket of Ed money raised through taxation throughout Vermont, and then redistributed based on the state’s highly complex formula.
“Bottom line,” Tolles continued, “New Haven gets basically zilch out of that. Maybe a pittance. Therefore, Anbaric trying to promote tax dollars to the Ed Fund is irrelevant to New Haven and not part of any discussion. Vermont as an entirety may benefit; New Haven — stuck with their project — gets zero.”
Whereas at the earlier meetings, Anbaric representatives had seemed somewhat mystified by Vermont’s complex education tax structure, at Tuesday night’s meeting, when Tolles raised his objection to including the large education taxes the project would pay to the state as part of a “benefit” to New Haven, Rossignoli quipped, “We violently agree.”
THE 69 QUESTIONS
At the meeting, Rossignoli and other Anbaric representatives answered the selectboard’s 69 questions and also fielded questions from the floor.
The selectboard’s questions covered the general areas of siting; noise; fire, health and safety; heating and cooling systems; the converter station buildings and the cables themselves; compensation for property owners bordering the converter station; project timeline; monetary benefits to New Haven; impact on existing VELCO structures and system; and transparency about ongoing negotiations and about any agreements that have been negotiated.
The Q-and-A lasted from roughly two and a half hours until 10 p.m., when the selectboard continued with its regularly scheduled meeting. Anbaric had promised that a document providing its written answers would be delivered to the town by the end of the week, but it had not arrived as of press time on Friday. New Haven residents can expect to see the document posted to the town’s website this week, in with selectboard minutes.
Among the attendees in the packed room was attorney Richard Saudek, who later that night was officially hired by the selectboard to represent New Haven in its dealings with Anbaric Transmission.
“This is a huge project and there are a lot of facets to the project some of which we can’t envision down the road because we don’t have the expertise to do that,” said Barrett. “Richard has worked for the Public Service Department. He’s very knowledgeable about some of the things that we don’t understand. And he and Cindy (New Haven town attorney Cindy Hill) complement each other. They both have different strengths to bring to the table. And I think that will work really well for the benefit for our town.”
In addition to his years as chair of the Public Service Board and as Vermont’s first commissioner of the Department of Public Service, Saudek has represented a number of Vermont towns that have been approached to site large utility projects.
Anbaric’s latest outreach to win not just the pocketbooks but also the hearts and minds of New Haven residents includes meet-and-greet sessions at the Village Green Market (the next will be Nov. 30) and a large-scale mailing of a flyer touting the project’s benefits to the town that went out earlier this month. According to MacLean, Anbaric plans to hold an information meeting in December (no date set) where they will again outline the project to the residents of New Haven and field questions.
For its part, the selectboard had not yet decided its own next step. Barrett said the selectboard would be discussing the different kinds of gatherings it might host and which kinds of formats might best serve New Haven.
“That’s still up in the air because we have other business that we really need to get to,” she said. “We’ve talked about having more like an informational meeting where that’s the only topic because the last two meetings have been part of a regular selectboard meeting. So among different options, we’re talking about having an informational meeting, in the town hall, with the microphone system but we’re still working on it.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].
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