Pownal residents say green ‘model communities’ program not local, rolled out illegally

By Michael Bielawski

POWNAL, Vt. — It came dressed up as a local initiative to spur Vermont’s first “climate change economy,” but some residents say the Climate Economy Model Communities Program originates from Montpelier and is being implemented illegally.

The Vermont Council on Rural Development wants to turn Vermont towns into model communities for climate change. In April, the statewide group selected the small southwestern town of Pownal to be the first success in what it calls the Climate Economy Model Communities Program.

Photo courtesy of town of Pownal

FOR CLIMATE CHANGE: Outside groups have selected the bucolic town of Pownal, Vt., to make Vermont’s first “climate economy,” as a response to climate change. (Photo courtesy of town of Pownal)

The program’s goal is to green the local economy with energy efficiency initiatives, green commerce opportunities and guidelines for energy use. In Pownal, the climate change program is cleverly named “Empower Pownal,” giving the appearance of a local initiative. As the program spreads to other communities, it presumably will be repackaged and branded as a grassroots effort of other towns.

On Tuesday night, Jon Copans, director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development, was in Pownal for a community visit to brainstorm green-themed projects for the town. More than 100 residents attended the meeting.

Five initiatives that emerged from the session include expanding trail systems, boosting agriculture businesses, making better use of buildings to promote jobs, building a cooperative food producer network and starting a Green Up-style project that continues year round — benign ice-breaker initiatives selected out of a possible 16 presented.

But while Copans hopes to roll out his Montpelier-based group’s agenda in local communities, some Pownal residents say the town is fine as is, and doesn’t need outside change agents to turn it into someone’s idea of “a model community.”

Melissa Collins is among the local residents who want the program to be subject to open meeting laws, public comment and town-wide votes. She has launched a petition to make that happen.

“We aren’t allowed to vote on any of the initiatives coming out of the program that could change the very make-up of our town,” Collins told True North. “They are fast-tracking the program and going all over the state, city by city. Middlebury is next.”

At the invitation of the Selectboard, Collins and about two dozen concerned residents were among those who attended Tuesday’s meeting. The meeting got off to a shaky start, however, as a series of questions were raised about the lawfulness of the meeting itself, and the initial application for the model communities program.

“‘No resolution, rule, regulation, appointment or formal action shall be considered binding, except at an open meeting,'” said Pownal Planning Commission member Bonnie Cutler, quoting Vermont’s open meeting statute. “The application, the meetings and tonight’s vote are all occurring in violation of the above mentioned rules.”

Cutler also said the entire process violated procedural rules found in the Planning Commission rule book.

The flap stems back to how the application was filed. Instead of being authorized by a municipal body, as required by law, the application was filed at the request of a single individual, Planning Commission member Shannon Barsotti. While Barsotti’s action got a personal endorsement from the chair of the Pownal Planning Commission, Mike Slattery, it wasn’t properly put forward for open meeting and public comment.

As a result, Cutler on Tuesday moved to halt the meeting until the commission could discuss re-applying for the initiatives in open meeting.

Jason Olansky, vice chair of the Pownal Selectboard, told True North that despite the opposition of some residents, the initiatives suggested for the town came from locals.

“I think (people generally supported it), but there was definitely a group that didn’t,” Olansky said. “There was a group that’s adamantly opposed to it.”

“The VCRD will help us now look for avenues for funding. Some of the trail funding should come from the Vermont Youth Conservation Core, as they have an expressed interest in coming down and doing some trail work,” he added.

Local resident Bob Jarvis is among the program’s many skeptics. He says few people in town recognize that the program is prepackaged from the VCRD-sponsored action plan of the Vermont Climate Change Economy Council, and published in a 40-page report called “Progress for Vermont.”

“The individuals who spearheaded this had not read that report and don’t know how this program fits into Vermont’s overall climate initiative. I find that troubling,” Jarvis told the Pownal Planning Commission on July 18.

Notables on the 24-member Vermont Climate Change Economic Council include former Transportation Secretary Sue Minter, Efficiency Vermont Director Karen Glitman, Energy Action Network’s Andi Colnes, UVM professor Jon Erickson and Vermont Natural Resources Council Executive Director Brian Shupe, among others.

“Why are we treating this as though it’s some Pownal-driven process instead of action item No. 6 out of seven action items that is ‘Progress for Vermont’?” Jarvis said. “This is a state-down process being portrayed as a Pownal-up process.”

“And of course, when it goes to Middlebury they will say the same thing, and when it goes to Jericho they will say the same thing,” he added.

Jarvis said while Pownal residents participated in choosing the five goals, it was done “within a narrow frame” of the VCRD. Jarvis and others worry that many aspects of the pre-packaged agenda will infringe on private property rights.

Despite the prepackaging of the model communities program, a VCRD recap of the June 24 forum for Pownal claims the results are grassroots.

“Initiatives in Pownal were spearheaded by a small, but very productive team representing Pownal’s school, library, businesses, government and interested citizens,” the recap states.

Jarvis said his biggest concern so far is not what has transpired at the meetings, but the text of the application sent to the VCRD to launch the program.

“The application addresses Pownal’s willingness to use taxation and other regulatory tools to encourage ‘smart growth,’” he said at Tuesday’s meeting.  “… (This means) reward and punishment to ensure individual decisions are in line with central planners’ vision for how other people should live their lives.”

The application written by Planning Commission member Shannon Barsotti reveals a massive reorganization of the town’s energy and land use:

In response to the increasing rate of climate change, Pownal must accelerate the conversion from fossil fuels to renewable energy resources and more fuel-efficient means of transportation. Land development patterns should promote energy conservation and efficiency.

To accomplish this goal, the town should encourage compact development centered around the three villages, with low-density uses and conservation emphasized in outlying areas.

At the meeting, Rural Development Executive Director Paul Costello said there are no hidden motives at work.

“Nobody (has said) let’s have a wind project in this town, nobody said let’s have a solar in agricultural fields — those things aren’t on the list,” Costello said.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorth82X.

Images courtesy of Sarah Swenty/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and town of Pownal

23 thoughts on “Pownal residents say green ‘model communities’ program not local, rolled out illegally

  1. Two dozen opposed? I doubt it. Certainly at least the other 100 in support. This article is slanderous. There were no illegal activities by Shannon Barsotti. She did not violate any law or procedure of the state, planning commission or VCRD application. If this gathering is considered to be a legal one, then perhaps we should look at the ballot stuffing and fraudulent “voting” with the fake dots that were brought to the meeting. You interviewed no one who supports the VOLUNTEER groups that have stemmed from the discussions. All the ideas came from Pownal residents. Check your facts. Jon Copans is not the director. You only interviewed the small handful of people who have been very vocal against this project. I am looking forward to what ideas the volunteer groups come up with.

    • I think that a reply/decision from Montpelier may shed light on any improprieties at issue, after which better judgements may be made relative to the ultimate motives of this unelected body that is attempting to restrict our liberty through the transformation of our property rights. It will also perhaps flush out those who are pushing, ignorantly or willfully, this obvious move to promote an Agenda 21 program.

    • For climate change enthusiasts in Pownal, Middlebury, and other future Vermont Climate Economy Model towns. As advertised on the most recent issue of Front Porch Forum, here is your opportunity to sign up and learn how to exploit and profit from the global warming crisis and world wide hysteria. Don’t miss out on your opportunity to learn how YOU can gain the edge on your fellow community residents, and make a fortune by embracing and celebrating man made global catastrophes. Join Green Mountain Power, your ever trustworthy Vermont State government, and scores of deep pocket investors in a Worldwide movement to move whole populations from the outermost reaches and into clusters of human management areas, and reservations. Hurry! Time and space is limited! Get in on the ground floor of this revolutionary new approach to eugenics. You will be glad you did as you sit on high in years to come and survey all you have created, without all that annoying sound of wildlife. If you haven’t joined the Empower Pownal celebration yet, you still can. Someone you know can bring you into the fold. Kool Aid provided free of charge.
      For information on how you can join in the excitement, go to:

      • Oh Frederick. Thank you for the chuckle. I’m not sure you did the petition crowd a favor with this sarcastic post. Interesting that people said they were being called names when someone used the term climate change denier. It doesn’t sound like it was name calling. It sounds like it was simply stating a fact.

        • Being skeptical about a minor program in Pownal that is unlikely to have any kind of affect on climate change does not warrant being called “climate change denier”. The only fair thing to do is to make sure that the cost benefit analysis is done in an honest and open way so that people can judge fairly and honestly whether the changes being promoted are suitable for their community.

    • 1. Research taking formal action or conducting business via email under VT Open Meerting Law. Better yet- call the state.
      2.You’re right two dozen opposed IS inaccurate. As of last week- it was over 150.
      3.Children were voting so… how legitimate was it?
      4. Actually, not all Pownal residents have been involved, invited or contacted. The “humanitarians with the guillotines” think they know what’s best for those in our town and mobile home parks. I’d love to know who thought it was appropriate to say in the proposed town plan that the people in mobile homes are, “living a compromised quality of life.” Who the hell made that conclusion and what makes them qualified to do so? Typical elists mentality.
      5. Sticking your tongue out at people, name calling, and using fake facebook profiles to stalk and harass people is just a few examples of the pentulant behavior of those in favor. How classy!
      6.We were told no industrial wind would be permitted in Pownal. However, have you seen the proposed town plan?
      I suggest you review the above and check YOUR facts.

    • Jenny Dewar, oops I meant Elizabeth, if you are so justified in your beliefs, then why are you sneaking around using profiles of the deceased and now Elizabeth. You are fooling no one but yourself and people are quite bored with your rhetoric. Please find a new hobby that doesn’t involve stalking and slander.

    • “Elizabeth”, I don’t remember there being someone at the dot voting named Elizabeth, how odd as you seem to speak as if you were there. Glad to meet a new neighbor! Hopefully you will introduce yourself to me, and the rest of us with concerns at the next meeting. Actually speaking to us and listening might give you better information. The stickers that said “NO” on them were obviously not from the VCRD. They were not affixed to the initiatives to “stuff the ballot”. If we wanted to stuff the ballot we would have used stickers that matched the VCRD dot voting stickers, and not made them stand out by using ones that were so obviously not from the program. Give us some credit here. We went to the meeting under the assumption that there would be no “NO” allowed, so we brought those as a form of protest. We were surprised that the VCRD amended their process to include “NO” stickers, which they handed out. Some folks still posted their handmade ones in protest, but there was NEVER an attempt to ballot stuff. It was a PROTEST. Again, ballot stuffing would have meant forging the VCRD stickers. Obviously our homemade ones actually stood out as separate and not “official”. It was an attempt to show displeasure and concerns with the process, not produce a false result. Ironically, the risk for false results abound in this process: originally only allowing YES votes, disallowing any conversation except “championing of ideas” not criticism, allowing non residents to vote and allowing children to vote. No one checked to see if people had extra stickers that matched the VCRD ones. If anything, our handmade “NO” stickers just revealed the obvious flaw in the entire “dot vote” process that already existed and we have been trying to point out.

      Also, I know that True North tried to contact people on the other side of this issue, and they refused to speak to them. The reporter was literally hung up on. Most of this reporting comes from a straight watching of televised meetings and the program materials themselves. For once, a truly researched and informed article.

      A petition with nearly 150 signatures on it and new signatures every day shows we are not a tiny minority. And that is with us not even breaking a sweat. The VCRD supposedly did much more outreach and they ended up with less support for their program, or grant, which is it again?

      And yes, the procedure for putting Pownal into this program was not followed appropriately, that has been proven.

      • A petition that can’t be signed isn’t very effective. Nobody has come to my door with one in hand.

  2. Hi, I do not own land in Pownal, but I know the feeling.
    ” I’m from Montpelier and I’m here to help you! I will set you on the right path”
    Good luck Pownal.

  3. Just wait till Jimmy Ehlers becomes governor …. taxation on dairy farming will close them all down

  4. VCRD director Paul Costello is the co-chair of Gov. Scott’s recently assembled Vermont Climate Commission. Look for the VCRD action plan to be the recommendation of this commission and for its “suggestions” to become “requirements” in a Dem/Prog bill supported by Scott after the commission has made its final report 12 months from now. Coupled with other state laws such as ACT 260 which removes towns from decision making in the siting of wind and solar projects unless they comply with complex state mandates, this initiative increases state control and decreases individual freedom and local control, all in the name of “saving the planet”, a battle cry that is being inculcated at every level in Vermont’s schools with no regard to cost vs benefit analysis or actual environmental impacts.

  5. “Green Initiatives” just another liberal boondoogle they have taken Vermont’s beautiful
    landscape, placed the hideous looking solar panel all over the country side. Within the
    next ten or fifteen years these will be just broken pieces of junk scattered about on our
    landscape……. Shameful !! Don’t forget our ruined ridgelines with those wind mills .

  6. Do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t cost the taxpayers a nickel they don’t want to spend. We all know these “green” initiatives will make zero difference in climate change. While more trails and less pollution is always good we should know it is paying for itself after doing a cost benefit analysis.

    Let’s make sure that if we make an error when implementing these programs we err on the side of more freedom and not less. The cost benefit analysis should be done in every case to make sure it pays for itself and to make sure that no one is forced to do what they don’t want to do.

    • It is not one bit about that total hoax, climate change. Or have you not noticed that the cry has been switched from the disproven “global warming”? “Implementing these programs” is totally against freedom!!

      Get up to speed with:

      Agenda 21: The Giant UN Eugenics Death Cult Exposed


      It may sound “tinfoil hat” at first. Guaranteed you will change your mind after having sat thru the video. Rosa’s site will provide a slew of additional info.

      Living on a fixed income makes it difficult to say the least, but the gloomy prospects of not buying copies of her book, Behind the Green Mask, and making them available around the county to inform folks of the consequences of inaction outweigh all that. Look for one soon at your local library.

  7. Green is the new red. Global warming has been debunked. Carbon dioxide is not a problem, unless there isn’t enough of it!
    Creeping communism is disguised as “environmentalism”, and local control is being displaced in the name of the “greater good”.
    If these lunatics like communism so well, they should move to China and leave the rest of us to deal with the so-called global warming. Yes it is agenda 21, but now it’s called agenda 2030. It calls for eliminating 95% of us! Not a joke, bad craziness. Cretins!

  8. Act 250 compliance would solve all this green silliness movement. No more ugly solar farms and no more noisy windmills on our ridge lines. Unfortunately, the greenies rule the day and override any rules or laws that were passed to preserve Vermont’s pristine heritage.

  9. While local communities are encouraged to undertake climate and environmental improvements, this should only happen in consort with local representatives and inhabitants. They must not be isolated from the planning process. Big brotherism of the Orwellian type has gotten to be a festering problem in Vermont.

    • We all want clean air and water, and unadulterated healthy food but… there is precious little to nothing we can do to alter climate — which is always changing.

      Keeping the above in mind is wise when “planning”. Such planning should not be controlled by unelected “officials” who would promote their agendas — which may not be readily apparent — via “consensus”.

      Staying abreast of the situation by getting advance notice of these meetings and making concerns heard is a must.

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