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An affront to natural heritage

March 4, 2013

<http://rutlandherald.com/article/20130227/OPINION04/702279921/1039>

February 27,2013
Our residence on Lake Champlain in North Hero affords a spectacular panorama of Green Mountain peaks and ridgelines stretching from majestic Jay Peak in the north to Mount Abraham many miles to the south.

It’s an iconic Vermont landscape image, whereby with some blurring of reality, one could imagine that what the eye perceives as undeveloped wilderness might actually be real due to the relative absence of civilization’s markings. Almost.

Recently, four gleaming white pillars were erected on a nearby mountain, impossible to ignore from our vantage point, indelibly blemishing, albeit slightly, the wilderness perception.

The insults to Vermont’s rural and environmentally conscious culture and heritage represented by ridgeline wind development are numerous enough on their own merit that we should remove this option from the menu of alternative energy solutions that we all agree must be thoughtfully deployed. 

In 1968, forward-thinking Vermonters placed the highest priority on preserving the aesthetic value of unobstructed sight lines and vistas featuring undeveloped hills and mountaintops. The result, arguably our signature environmental accomplishment, was the billboard ban, standing still as a welcome reminder that here, our surroundings are vitally important.

Glistening white towers and turbines atop a forested hillside stand in stark contrast to the core vision our predecessors had in mind and the vision that we have benefited from to this day. To many, a metal tower on a ridge line is worse than a billboard on a roadside if for no other reason that it disrespects and disgraces our heritage of not selling out to urbanization without a fight, and on our commitment to preserve the rural Vermont image and reality for future generations.

We now have the unique opportunity, indeed the responsibility, to step up and again make a bold historical decision to preserve the natural beauty around us.

But there lurks within the industrial wind discourse, a more insidious and troubling threat than the arguable aesthetic deterioration of our landscape.

Central to this concern is the concept of option. Immediate medical attention to an individual in cardiac arrest is not optional. Getting a tattoo is an option. We are not on the verge of losing power to turn on our lights. Alternative energy sourcing is highly desirable and ultimately necessary for the longevity of our planet, but not a life-or-death matter this second. There are options, with no overwhelming urgency forcing a hurried, potentially irreversible, wrong decision.

Citizens of communities now selected for industrial wind development, after careful and thoughtful analysis and study, are increasingly lining up to say no, we choose not to select the option of turbines on our mountains. We choose not to get the tattoo.

Some have gone to the extraordinary measure of rewriting town plans in a futile, but admirable attempt to mirror the vision of our billboard-banning predecessors. But they are powerless to stop it due to existing statutes and regulations.

It’s a sobering, almost unthinkable situation that a Vermont community does not have the fundamental right to have a governing voice on select development projects, particularly ones that have the massive impact of an industrial wind turbine array. This must change.

Recently, U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders made a well-publicized comment that Vermont should be embarrassed to be discussing a temporary moratorium on industrial wind development. My first thought in hearing this was of the political contributions blowing in the “free” Washington wind.

More importantly, I’d say to Mr. Sanders, “Regardless of where any of us stand on the wind issue, your constituency, through the vehicle of a short-term moratorium, seeks the time to make change granting them the privilege of affecting their own destiny, and to say yes or no to the permanency of a tattoo.”

The embarrassment here is that an elected Vermont official would thwart that objective.

Doug Maynes is a resident of North Hero.

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