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August 10, 2010

Council Approves Power Deal with Hydro-Québec

The Burlington City Council was in a giving mood last night, save for a verbal dust-up with Mayor Bob Kiss over his opposition to the Hydro-Québec contract, approving a power deal with the provincial utility, funding a study that could help keep the Vermont Lake Monsters playing ball in Burlington, and giving Champlain College the OK to expand in the city's South End.

The council started off the evening by honoring fallen firefighter Lt. Steven "Vinny" Costello as more than a dozen city firefighters stood along the back wall of Contois Auditorium.

The council then delved directly into whether seven, or eight, members of the council constitutes a voting majority. The council has received two conflicting opinions: City Attorney Ken Schatz initially ruled that the council only needs a majority of the members present, which would be seven if all 13 members attend. An attorney working for the council's Democratic caucus, Dan Richardson, says it's eight — a majority of the total council seats.

This whole issue arose after Councilor Marrisa Caldwell unexpectedly resigned at the end of July.

The council agreed to let Schatz continue studying the issue and report back by the council's September 13 meeting. Schatz had already been looking into the issue at the request of Councilor Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5).

Schatz said the council has used its authority under the city charter to set rules different from those laid out in state statute, and has often made decisions based on a majority of those councilors present, not a majority of the full council.

In other business, the council spent plenty of time discussing whether to approve a 9MW power deal with Hydro-Québec. The Burlington Electric Department is the last utility given the go-ahead to sign onto the 225MW deal being negotiated by Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service with the provincial utility to the north.

Under the deal, which needs approval from the Vermont Public Service Board and Burlington voters, BED would purchase 5MW of power beginning in 2015 and ending in 2035, and an additional 4MW of power starting in 2020 and ending in 2038.

At a city Board of Finance meeting earlier in the evening, Mayor Bob Kiss and Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold voted against the contract, with Councilors Karen Paul (I-Ward 6), Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4) and council president Bill Keogh (D-Ward 5) voting in favor.

Keogh tells Seven Days that when the HQ deal came before the Board of Finance a week ago, neither Mayor Kiss or CAO Leopold expressed concerns about the utility's environmental impact.

Wright asked Kiss to explain his vote to the council.

"I think one thing we have to remember is that Hydro-Québec power is not environmentally benign," said the mayor. "If we make this decision, it will undermine the development of local renewables."

Kiss said he would rather see BED invest in in-state and energy efficiency rather than buying power from Hydro-Québec.

Wright was concerned that, if the mayor didn't approve of the contract,  he would either veto the resolution to approve the contract, or delay action on it and potentially put BED in jeopardy of participating in the contract. A council decision was needed last night, and a mayor's signature on the resolution today, in order for BED to be at the table.

Vermont utilities will hold a press conference Thursday at The Essex to announce public details of the deal with Hydro-Québec.

Kiss refused to tell Wright, when asked repeatedly, whether he would veto or delay action on the resolution.
He wanted the council to take action first. In response, Wright circulated a petition that would have called a special meeting of the council today if the mayor refused to sign the resolution.

At one point, when Mayor Kiss — for at least the third time — explained he wouldn't tell the council how he would act until they voted, Councilor Paul Decelles (D-Ward 7) interrupted him to "call the question" or take an immediate vote.

That prompted Kiss to brusquely ask Keogh, "Are you going to allow this type of behavior to occur?" To which Keogh replied, "Mr. Mayor, you have the floor."

The outbursts on all sides were for naught, as the council approved the measure 11-2 with councilors Sharon Bushor (I-Ward 1) and Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (P-Ward 3) voting against.

The council debate signals what is likely to be a spirited public one come March, when voters will be asked to weigh in on the contract.

In other business, the council approved a resolution calling on the city's Public Works Commission to come up with a plan to educate the public about keeping at least a five-foot right-of-way on downtown sidewalks. Originally, the council looked at creating an ordinance to ban sitting or lying down on select sidewalks. The commission is being asked to return with a plan by September 13.

The council also approved spending $15,000 to help defray the costs of a $50,000 engineering study to determine what improvements are needed at Centennial Field to keep the Lake Monsters playing. The study would also better define the costs.

Finally, the council gave the OK to Champlain College to either buy or lease a 37,500-square-foot building on Lakeside Avenue to house its information-technology center for the entire campus, its Emergent Media Center and other offices.

What's the exchange rate right now? If it favors the US dollar we should pay in Loonies!

If Bob and Jon are against it, then I'm for it! Whatever it is. Doesn't matter. Hell I'm a liberal dem (who did NOT vote for Kiss) and the guy is determined, along with his little sidekick Leopold, to take the city down in flames.

Jeff: Thanks for proving why there hasn't been a dem in the mayor's office in thirty years.

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