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Landowners speak out on wind project

July 15, 2012

Landowners speak out on wind project
By Lucia Suarez
STAFF WRITER | July 14,2012
HUBBARDTON — From his front porch, Bill Greene has a panoramic view of the ridgeline that is proposed for a wind farm. His neighbor Derek Saari in Pittsford owns 60 acres of ridgeline that is right in the middle of the project area.Greene has declined to grant the developers, Noble Environmental Power and then Reunion Power, the right to use his land. Saari initially agreed, but last month changed his mind.

Both landowners are now speaking out against the project and Reunion Power, hoping other landowners will join the growing opposition to the proposed 20-turbine installation.

Greene said he could understand why so many landowners — Reunion will not say how many — initially signed on to the project.

“It’s wind power. How can you be against it?” Greene said Friday. “They almost fooled me. They sold themselves as a green company. They are not a green company.”

By that, he said, he meant that the wind project would result in “total devastation” of the land and ecosystem. He also referred to pollution that would be created by equipment during construction.

“Those excavators do not run on corn oil,” Greene said.

Greene and Saari were approached by Noble Environmental Power about six years ago for a land easement allowing construction of a wind farm. Their lands were crucial to the project because they would give the developer access to the road that leads to the ridge.

Saari agreed, but not Greene, whose extended negotiations with Noble’s successor, Reunion Power, ended earlier this year.

In a letter that will appear in Sunday’s Rutland Herald, Greene said he and three partners who own more than 300 acres in Hubbardton were “aggressively pursued financially” by the developers.

They were even offered a more lucrative deal than other landowners, he said, and he was offered a job by Reunion Power.

“I was flattered, but it was just to take our land,” Greene said Friday. “The statements that were made in my kitchen were so different than the public ones.”

Steve Eisenberg, project manager for Reunion Power, said Friday he was aware of Greene’s letter and said he would present a strong response in his own letter. He said Greene’s letter contained many exaggerations.

“The letter was filled with untrue statements and inconsistencies,” Eisenberg said.

Greene said in an interview that he was led to believe one thing, but then the proposed easement would say something else. For example, he said, the company never discussed using Biddie Knob Road to access the project site. But he said he was surprised to see a later legal document that would have given Reunion the rights to the road.

Greene also said the company told him it would not post his land, but the proposed easement said Reunion could do so if it determined there was a safety hazard.

“What saved me was that I had four people,” he added. “It was not just me hashing it out with me.”

Unlike Greene, Saari was initially in favor of the project.

During his negotiations six years ago, Saari said Thursday, he received a 20-page easement agreement that he described as being “overpowering” and “honestly hard to read through.”

“It was one of most rugged documents to read,” said Saari, a town planner in Massachusetts. “It was very, very legal. I deal with easements in my line of work and this was very convoluted.”

After nearly nine months of negotiations, Saari attempted to modify the easement without much success, and he eventually signed on to the project. Then, he said, the problems started.

The developers had said they would survey the property, Saari said, but they never did. He said he was kept at arm’s length at all times, never getting information about what was going to happen to his property.

“It was very frustrating,” Saari said. “Things just started to add up.”

He also said the payment agreement under the easement was not the same as he was led to believe.

Access to the project was a deal-killer for both Greene and Saari. Both said Reunion Power wanted to use their road, known as Biddie Knob Road in Hubbardton and Old Hubbardton Road in Pittsford, as the important access point to the project — and that did not sit well with either of them.

“They were adamant that it was a town road, but that is my road,” Saari said of Old Hubbardton Road. “It’s incredible that you think you will get a tractor-trailer up that mountain.”

In a March 17 email to Eisenberg, Greene and his partners declined to enter into an agreement with Reunion Power. On June 27, Saari terminated his easement agreement with the company.

“Everyone had a confidentiality clause,” Saari said. “I honored it. I am not honoring it anymore, much to their dismay.”

He said he feels great about his decision.

“I am a 38-year-old that needs money, (but) I don’t want to be a part of this,” Saari said.

Greene said he is not out to defeat Reunion Power but said people should know what he experienced in the last two years.

“I would have loved to stay anonymous. I don’t want to be the poster child,” he said. “At some point your principles have to stand up and take charge.”

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