What can the Town do to help project neighbors participate in the application process?
Neighbors’ interests and Town interests often diverge -- one may want to negotiate a settlement, perhaps involving landscaping or other screening, or moving an access driveway to another location, which may be at odds with the position of the other. That said, however, there is much a Town can do to assist project neighbors. The Town to facilitate a public informational meeting where neighbors can ask the applicant questions about the project and the process. The Town can incorporate the comments or concerns of project neighbors into Town comments on the project. Towns and neighbors can share expert witness costs and coordinate litigation strategy if the project goes to a PSB hearing.
If the Town opposes a project, what’s the best way to get a hearing?
Be sure that your comments are clear, thorough, and tied substantively to specific §248 review criteria. Be sure to clearly state, perhaps even in a separately filed document, that you are requesting hearing. The PSB rules do not clearly state what type of evidence must be submitted to support a request for a hearing, but you can strengthen your comments by submitting affidavits, exhibits, or even formal prefiled testimony.
Do we need an attorney?
Not necessarily, but there are times when it makes a lot of sense to be represented by counsel. If your Town has ample knowledgeable officials or staff available to respond to solar facility applications, and if you don’t have too many of them at once, and if you simply want to submit comments but are not actively opposing a project or requesting a hearing, then there’s no particular reason why the Town can’t meaningfully participate by submitting comments without an attorney.
When you are facing several solar project applications at once, or one that is large or has complex issues, the assistance of legal counsel can help to ensure that all steps and deadlines are met in order, and all issues are addressed in a timely fashion. When a project is contentious, an attorney can provide a bit of a buffer between disputatious parties, which can help reduce the anxiety of participating in a complex legal process. And finally, when a Town is strongly requesting a hearing and actively opposing a project, an attorney can help ensure that a proper legal record is created for appeal, that testimony is submitted in an appropriate admissible fashion, and that legal issues are thoroughly briefed.
What other resources might help?
--Read the Citizen’s Guide to the Vermont Public Service Board’s Section 248 Process, available free on the PSB website. Print it out and share it with project neighbors and Town staff.
--Talk to your Regional Planning Commission. Their staff may be able to help you negotiate aesthetic mitigation like landscaping plans, as well as provide guidance for drafting town plan and screening bylaw language.
--Reach out to other Towns that have been involved in numerous solar cases. Most will share copies of their filings and other materials that you can use as guidance to build your own responses.
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