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OPINION: Public Service Board Hearing Process a Sham

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by  Walter Amses

Throughout history,  from the Greek city-states to 19th century union busting, “divide and conquer” has been employed as a strategy for concentrating and maintaining power. The theory is simple yet highly effective: Isolate small factions of the opposing force and crush them individually with overwhelming force. The tactic becomes even more torturous when highly trained soldiers are replaced by highly paid attorneys.

A 21st-century version of this plan has played out over the last several years in Vermont as VTel systematically destroys the aesthetics of neighborhood after neighborhood, marching toward their goal of 180 communications towers across the state before their corporate welfare dries up. The result is that legendary natural beauty is sacrificed on an altar of corporate greed.

Neighbors on a stretch of Bayne Comolli Road in North Calais are submerged by the increasing likelihood that at some point in the near future, construction will begin on a 140-foot communication tower,              ostensibly for “the public good” as such designations are interpreted by the Public Service Board. That it is unnecessary is evidently of no concern to the board.

During an especially vicious, late spring infestation of black flies, members of the North Calais Neighborhood Coalition and landowners abutting the proposed tower site, planted their gardens while coming to grips with an approval process so weighted in the utility’s favor that there appeared to be more rules governing the participation of citizens than for the actual construction of an industrial-strength facility on an otherwise pristine ridgeline. 

My own summer fantasy began somewhere back in February. Then, as our transition from hubcap-deep mud to flesh-eating bugs came and went, my vision went with it, losing more of its cachet the closer we got to actual summer, as towers — like insects — loomed wherever I was, whatever I was doing. 

A solstice road trip found us motoring home through the length of our state.        Although there were towers throughout New Hampshire and Massachusetts (noticed more readily when one is headed your way),  I was still appalled at the number of not only towers, but solar arrays and wind farms popping up with shocking regularity on the almost three-hour Vermont leg of the journey. 

Town by town, facility by facility, Vermont taxpayers are forced to wage individual and largely futile battles to protect their neighborhoods because traditional protections — zoning regulations, town plans and local government — have been rendered moot via Catch-22 … sorry, I meant Section 248.  More of a subterfuge than a law, 248 outlines how “parties may provide testimony and participate” while at the same time insuring that the Public Service Board need only go through the rudimentary motions before rubber stamping whatever project is at hand. 

My personal learning curve has increased exponentially during the last few months of jumping through an almost                                      incomprehensible sequence of legalistic hoops before someone at the Public Service Board will even consider reading my input. All of my neighbors had similar experiences. As we’ve become more collectively distraught over a process that essentially says you get to talk but they are under absolutely no obligation to listen, we feel increasingly isolated and alone.

The sad irony, of course, is that other small towns throughout the state are facing the same ongoing nightmare scenario as we are: “hearings” wherein no one is listening; a decidedly undemocratic democracy; representatives who don’t actually represent anyone; regulations that do not regulate; and community “participation” that is as irrelevant as trying to make your getaway on a hamster wheel. Kafka would be proud.

Walt Amses is a writer, former educator and the vice president of the North Calais Neighborhood Coalition.

Editors Note: Edited for length

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