New Haven to skip vote on power converter, will survey voters instead

NEW HAVEN — New Haven residents’ call for a direct vote on the proposed Vermont Green Line power converter station may be thwarted by a technicality.
That technicality — which could delay for two months a townwide vote on the power project that could bring millions of tax dollars to the town — prompted the selectboard to opt for a nonbinding survey on the question.
At an emergency meeting Tuesday morning, the New Haven selectboard voted to hold a townwide survey in response to the question: “Shall the residents of the Town of New Haven support entering into an Agreement with the Vermont Green Line Devco LLC (Anbaric) substantially in accordance with the term sheet signed by the selectboard on April 13?”
The survey will be available and can be completed on any of six days next month: Monday through Thursday, May 16-19, and Monday, May 23, at the town office during regular business hours; and Tuesday, May 24, at town hall from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
When asked if technically, the survey would be nonbinding, selectboard Chair Kathy Barrett answered, “Technically it’s a survey, yes. It would be nonbinding.” Asked what would be the intent of the survey, Barrett clarified, “We would like to know the sentiment of the town.”
The Anbaric Transmission/National Grid partnership has been developing the Vermont Green Line, a high voltage power line that would bring renewable power from upstate New York to Southern New England with a critical converter station in New Haven. Town officials last week signed a term sheet with VGL developers that promised payments of $1.4 million per year to the town for 40 years and $4 million to build a new fire station and a new town garage, among other things.
But VGL representatives have said they want to move ahead with their project.
After consulting with town attorney Cindy Hill and with the Vermont Secretary of State’s office, the selectboard early this week learned that in order for a town to vote on what Vermont statute defines as a “public question,” the town would first have to vote on whether to vote all such “public questions” by Australian ballot, Barrett said.
The statute in question is title 17, section 2680d (read the law in question online at http://legislature.vermont.gov/statutes/section/17/055/02680).
“The town has only voted to decide money issues by Australian ballot,” said Barrett. “So in order to change that we would have to have a townwide meeting that determines whether or not we’re going to vote public issues by Australian ballot. And then that would have to be prior to actually voting on the Vermont Green Line. So it would stretch the timeline out considerably.”
Barrett said that the timeline needed for the additional vote would stretch the timeline out 60 days — that’s  30 days to warn and have a vote on whether to decide public issues by Australian ballot, then an additional 30 days to warn and vote on the public issue of whether to approve the VGL converter station itself.
The VGL developers have also been considering Middlebury as an alternate local. And, while the VGL partnership agreed earlier to abide by the townwide Australian ballot vote, as called for at town meeting, they have let it be known that as far as they’re concerned the clock is ticking.
“If (the results of this survey) is overwhelmingly for or against then we’re going to go along with what the town says,” Barrett said. “If it’s a close vote — what’s a close vote? I don’t know. It depends on the voter turnout. If we have 20 people come and it’s 9 to 11, that doesn’t tell us much. But if we have 800 people come and it’s 300 to 500 that’s a clearer message. We’ll just have to see what the voter turnout is and what the vote is.”
According to Barrett, the vote is open to all New Haven residents (Barrett wanted residents to understand that voting as a New Haven resident has nothing to do with whether one is registered to vote). She said there are around 1,700 residents in New Haven and that typically, on Town Meeting Day, voter turnout is consistently over 50 percent — more if there’s a controversial issue. The selectboard hasn’t defined what number of voters they would consider a good turnout but instead encourages all New Haven residents to participate in the survey.
“We would like to see a really good turnout because if you don’t make your voice be heard through the survey you can’t complain about it afterwards, whatever the result is,” Barrett said. “We’re making this available. And hopefully a lot of people will turn out and let their voices be heard, positive or negative, however they feel it in their heart to answer the survey.”
Barrett said that residents could still force the issue to be brought to Australian ballot by petition, but that would involve the same two-part vote over a minimum of 60 days that the selectboard is trying to avoid.
The New Haven-VGL Term Sheet is available on the town website. Print copies are available at the town office during regular hours and will be available at all three information sessions.
Information sessions remain as previously scheduled. The first information session will be this Saturday in the town hall at 1 p.m. Barrett said that the selectboard hopes that the town’s sound expert will be available at the meeting. The other two information sessions, also at the town hall, will be held Tuesday, May 10 at 6:30 p.m., and Monday, May 23, at 6:30 p.m.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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