Property owners in Grafton fear that the Stiles Brook Wind Project will have a devastating impact on their homes, lives and dreams in Vermont.
“One of the reasons I love Vermont and have lived here since 1974 is the relatively pristine environment and the wildlife,” said Jud Hartmann, a resident who has lived in the town for decades. “This project would devastate that. It would be absolutely awful.”
In particular, Hartmann said he worries his home’s value will be lost along with the pristine nature and wildlife that helps makes Grafton, a town of about about 600 residents, a charming southern Vermont destination.
In an election year such fears can change votes. Hartmann, a Democrat, says the threat of industrial wind turbines is so troubling that he is crossing party lines for the first time to vote Republican.
“I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that Phil Scott is elected governor,” he said. “…I hope the Democrats in Montpelier are able to wake up and say ‘Hey, people are not for this thing.’”
Phil Scott, a Republican from Barre, vowed to protect Vermont ridgelines against Big Wind. Sue Minter, a Democrat and native of Bryn Mawr, Penn., says wind energy is necessary to make Vermont 90 percent renewable by 2050.
Hartmann also has concerns about the town’s tourism, as Grafton is known nationally for its idyllic scenery and atmosphere. Dara Continenza, writing for travel guide SmarterTravel.com, listed Grafton as one of eight secret getaways in New England for fall travel.
“Grafton is a postage stamp-sized town bursting with Vermont charm, from its whitewashed church, to its gazebo-dotted village green, to the 600 self-reliant residents who have lovingly restored the historical town,” she wrote.
Hartmann said constructing 24 500-foot turbines would be to “throw away the major economic engine which is the tourist business.”
Some studies indicate that industrial size turbines sink property values. A 2011 study by Clarkson University School of Business analyzed 11,369 property transactions over nine years in Upstate New York and found that wind turbines “significantly reduce property values.”
“To be specific, decreasing the distance to the nearest turbine to 1 mile results in a decline in price of between 7.73% and 14.87% on average,” the authors write.
To the question of whether turbines hurt property values, Forensic Appraisal Group, a specialist for complex residential valuations, concludes, “In most cases, yes, they do. Our research has shown that when a property’s value depends on the viewshed, wind turbines negatively affect property value. … However, in other cases where the best use of the property does not depend on a view or noise, the effect can be negligible.”
Kate Muelrath, a Grafton resident of 32 years, also worries about the impact of the proposed turbines.
“I truly believe that’s going to be a problem,” she said. “And for the people who live closer, I think their fears are real.”
Those fears, according to interviews with other residents, include concerns about sound and vibrations in homes, spoiled aesthetics, environmental destruction, and changes in storm water flow that could exacerbate flooding. Another concern is the impact of high-cost wind energy on ratepayers.
Muelrath plans to move away if the project goes forward, and she fears selling at a big loss if she waits too long.
“That’s what I’m thinking,” she said. “I’ve been checking real estate values where [turbines] have been, and it appears it’s been difficult to sell. Some of the houses have been on the market for 500 to 600 days.”
Lynn Barrett, spokesperson for the Grafton Woodlands Group, a group opposing the project, says the issue is personal for her, since her family moved to Grafton about 50 years ago.
“I’m glad my father is not alive to see this happening to Grafton. He and my mother moved in the 1960s. He started a little real estate office and worked up until the time he died in 96. He would be devastated,” she said.
“I see so many people who came, bought a second home and actually moved in full time because they love it. It’s a rural, quiet, beautiful town that is a real town — it’s not a Disneyland pretend town. It’s a sacred place that needs to be protected.”