ANTRIM — Five residents have filed a lawsuit against the town alleging right-to-know violations were committed during negotiations between the Select Board and an energy company planning to build a wind farm in town.
“This is about the wind project, but it's really about 91-A,” said Charles Levesque, one of the five residents. “Right-to-know law is a bedrock law of the land in New Hampshire ... The core of this is simply our elected officials have been breaking the law, 91-A, and they shouldn't be doing that. It's kind of a sad day when citizens have to go to court to ask their elected officials to stop breaking the law.”
In June, Levesque along with the four other plaintiffs — Mary and Gordon Allen, Martha Pinello and Janice Longgood — and two other residents not named in the suit, tried to stop the Select Board's acceptance of an agreement between the town and the Antrim Wind Energy LLC, saying the Select Board held illegal meetings with the company leading up to a June 20 public hearing at which the agreement was accepted.
Eolian Renewable Energy, as Antrim Wind Energy, is currently under state review for approval to build a 30-megawatt production capacity facility in the Rural Conservation District along the Tuttle and Willard mountain ridge lines. The project includes 10 wind turbines.
A year ago, the state Site Evaluation Committee took over jurisdiction of the project because of its size. But the town has the right under state law to negotiate a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) with utility companies instead of charging a property tax based on the assessment of the facility.
In the lawsuit, filed July 30, the residents ask that the Hillsborough County Superior Court find the board guilty of right-to-know violations and invalidate the PILOT agreement with Antrim Wind Energy.
“The public interest on the open conduct of government is frustrated when the very public policy considerations that should have been discussed in public for over a year are hidden from view, and dressed up for acceptance by the veneer of two public hearings, when in truth, there was no disclosure of a year's worth of secret meetings behind closed doors,” the lawsuit says.
Levesque said he is not interested in blocking the project, but in protecting the best interests of the town and its residents.
“I think we got a really bad deal on that PILOT agreement,” at least in the first few years, Levesque said, adding: “it looks like Antrim citizens will be paying more in taxes to have this development in town.”
Levesque said the lawsuit was served to town officials Wednesday.
Town Administrator Galen Stearns and town attorney Robert Upton did not return phone calls Thursday.
In June, however, Upton defended the board's actions, saying the state law pertaining to PILOT agreements allows municipal officials to meet in non-public sessions to negotiate the agreements.
The five residents, represented by attorney John Ratigan, contest Upton's interpretation of that law, saying it does not exempt the board from 91-A.
Levesque said that while a June letter from Ratigan caused the Select Board to release some non-public minutes, the board did not admit to breaking the right-to-know law, which led to the residents filing the lawsuit.
“They wouldn't admit to anything so we had no choice. We just want our elected officials to follow the law; that's not too much to ask,” Levesque said.
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Meghan Pierce may be reached at email@example.com.