Rockingham voters to decide fate of hydro purchase

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(Host) State utility regulators have approved the Town of Rockingham’s bid to purchase the Bellows Falls hydroelectric plant. But Monday’s Public Service Board ruling places the final decision in the hands of Rockingham voters.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports:

(Keese) The Public Service Board’s decision came as a relief, if not a surprise to Rockingham officials. The town has already signed agreements with the two Canadian companies that put up the dam’s $72 million purchase price.

The companies will lease and operate the dam for seventy-four years, after which Rockingham will own it free and clear. Meanwhile the companies will pay Rockingham a yearly sum in lieu of taxes.

Richard Saudek, Rockingham’s attorney, called it a strong, positive decision for the town. The forty-four-page document makes three main points.

(Saudek) “Number one has to do with the bringing of a good renewable energy resource to the state. Number two, that the operation will be sound by the companies that will be operating it. Number three, there is good economic effect on the town and on the state from the income generated by the dam.”

(Keese) Rockingham has already voted to buy the dam. But the town was anticipating that the PSB ruling would call for a revote. The law gives citizens the right to reconsider the purchase in the light of risks and benefits revealed during the state’s review.

Lately some citizens have been voicing doubts about whether the money Rockingham will get in lieu of taxes will be enough. The dam accounts for a third of the town’s tax base.

In recent years the dam’s former owner challenged those payments in costly court battles. Saudek says the PSB ruling makes the benefits clear.

(Saudek) “They explained that Rockingham would be able to offset the expenses that it incurs in town government with the income they’ve been getting, and that they will avoid the constant challenges in the future to tax revenues that another owner might make.”

(Keese) Rockingham has already warned a town meeting for Wednesday to determine whether the revote should be by Australian ballot.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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