The Antrim Conservation Commission said it does not want to be included in a copy of a proposed warrant article regarding the acquisition of the Charles S. Bean property easement as part of the Antrim Wind Energy project agreement.
“The Antrim Conservation Commission does not want to be mentioned in the warrant article because we have always been against the town taking, or being a part, of this easement,” ACC Chair Peter Beblowski said while reading a letter to select board members during a regular Monday night meeting.
Beblowski said the ACC declined involvement in the easement in a 3-0 vote during a meeting it held on Wednesday, Jan. 25. He said the chair did not vote as is policy unless the body is tied.
The 100-acre easement was included in the Antrim Wind Energy’s package after the state’s Site Evaluation Committee struck down its original 10-turbine proposal. When the company resubmitted an amended application that scaled the project back to nine turbines, it also included the Charles S. Bean conservation easement as a way to enhance the package.
The total amount of conservation acres associated with the project stands at around 800 acres, not including the Charles S. Bean property, which would push conservation acreage to about 900 acres as a result the project’s construction.
The company has offered $10,000 for monitoring purposes to the party who acquires the 100-acre parcel. The land hasn’t been clearly delineated yet although it’s along the ridgeline on Tuttle Hill and surrounds turbines 3, 4, 5 and 6.
ACC’s decision to not take part in the acquisition was the result of several factors, Beblowski said. He said the easement will be potentially difficult to administer over the life of the project and beyond.
“The conservation commission does not have the resources to administer this particular easement,” Beblowski said.
Beblowski said while the town has the legal ability to accept the easement, the commission feels it’s not appropriate to take it.
It’s the ACC’s belief that it should be AWE’s responsibility to find a viable third party land trust to acquire and administer the easement.
“It’s my view that this is going to be a very complex easement to monitor,” Frank Gorga said during the meeting. “It’s not a wood lot that they’re promising not to do much on, it’s got a commercial operation in the middle of it. So that’s going to cost some money.”
He asked if anyone had any idea how much the piece of property was going to cost to monitor annually. No one at the meeting knew what those costs looked like, but Beblowski estimated it would be at least $200 every year. Multiply that over the project’s 50-year life and already the $10,000 offer has dried up, he said.
“Right there, you know it’s not enough,” Beblowski said, reminding the board that the easement continues in perpetuity.
Select board Chair John Robertson said various land trusts have been asked to take on the easement, but said that none have expressed interest in the plot.
“We are kind of in a hard place,” Robertson said in an interview after the meeting.
Beblowski speculated that the reason no land trust is interested in the easement is due to the potential financial constraint the acquisition could pose.
“They would need to have a fairly substantial stewardship fund to monitor it at least during the life of the project,” Beblowski said.
But Jeremy Wilson, executive director at Harris Center for Conservation Education, said the center has been approached about potentially acquiring the Charles S. Bean easement and said the center would be interested in taking on the easement if additional conservation land was associated with it.
He said the center isn’t necessarily interested in obtaining more funds to monitor the piece of land in perpetuity, but would rather have more conservation acreage added to the package.
“We want to ensure that the easement really does provide conservation value,” Wilson said.
He said the center is involved with other easements that came as a condition of the wind project’s approval.
NH Audubon, which holds about 1,650 acres near Willard Pond, was contacted for this article but was not available for comment before Wednesday’s deadline.
The group has long spoke out in opposition of AWE’s project proposal.
“We feel strongly that this proposed project fails the ‘proper siting’ criteria,” it said in a 2012 press release, meaning it’s possible they would not be offered the easement.
The warrant article will now proceed to Town Meeting, where taxpayers will decide whether or not they should take responsibility for the easement or not. If the town votes to assume responsibility, it will have to figure out a way to proceed without ACC. If townspeople don’t want to assume responsibility for the easement, it will be up to AWE to find a third party.