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Nelsons: no deal if GMP’s involved

LOWELL – Farmers Don and Shirley Nelson, who say wind turbines on Lowell Mountain are hindering the sale of their farm, decided this week they would not sell if the wind developer is putting money into the deal.

Green Mountain Power, proposing 20 to 21 wind turbines on Lowell’s ridge line, and the Vermont Land Trust were part of a now-dead deal to help a young farming couple buy and preserve the historic Nelson farm on Bailey Hazen Road, officials from both companies said Friday.

Don Nelson, contacted Friday afternoon, said he would not comment at this time on the deal.

GMP has applied for a certificate of public good for the wind development project from the Vermont Public Service Board.

The Nelsons have sought party status to oppose the wind development and are members of the Lowell Mountain Group, which also is fighting GMP. Don Nelson has said repeatedly that he is having trouble selling his property because of the proposed wind development. Their Lowell home on the Albany town line is among the closest to the turbine sites.

GMP officials approached the Vermont Land Trust this spring about finding a buyer for the farm, advertised at $1.4 million.

“Many people have expressed concern for the Nelsons and we wanted to help,” said Robert Dostis, GMP spokesman.

“We contacted the Vermont Land Trust to see how they might assist,” Dostis said.

At first, the land trust suggested that GMP buy the farm, which GMP declined, officials said.

At the same time, the land trust was working with young beef farmers in central Vermont who desperately need a new farm by November to move their herd, said Gil Livingston, Vermont Land Trust president.

Livingston said he could not identify the couple since there was no deal in the end.

The deal would have involved a federal grant arranged through the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board with matching money from GMP, he said. GMP funds would allow the deal to progress quickly and avoid the need to tap state funding sources.

“We saw this as a win/win for the Nelsons and the young Vermont couple who wanted to sugar and raise beef cattle, keeping it a working farm,” Dostis said.

The land trust would have gained the conservation rights to preserve the farm property, which Livingston called a “farm legacy.”

“It’s fabulous. It’s beautiful. It’s a very, very important piece of agricultural property,” he said.

“The appraisal came. Everybody thought it could work,” Livingston said.

“It is a spectacular farm to pass on to a young energetic farmer,” he said. “It was a vain hope, as it turned out.”

At a meeting Tuesday, the buyers met with the Nelsons and with Livingston to talk about the deal and the sources of money that would fund the purchase, Livingston said.

They told the Nelsons that GMP was a supporting financier of the purchase, he said.

“This farmer wanted to be a member of the community” and wanted the arrangement disclosed to the Nelsons, Livingston said.

The land trust is up front about the sources of funding, he added.

GMP also wanted to disclose its role, spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said Friday.

The meeting was emotional, Livingston said. “Everybody in that meeting cried at some point.”

On Thursday, Nelson said that he was no longer interested in the sale through the land trust, Livingston said.

GMP-Land Trust Ties

Nelson also “expressed some concern that [GMP president and CEO] Mary Powell was a member of the Vermont Land Trust board,” Livingston said.

Livingston said that he and his staff did not involve Powell in talks or actions about the purchase of the Nelson farm.

“I never spoke to Mary for obvious reasons,” he said.

The land trust has strict conflict of interest rules that prohibit staff members from taking any actions involving a board member without approval from the full board, he said.

Powell is no longer on the land trust board. Her term expired in June and she could not serve again because the land trust has term limits, Livingston said.

Time Constraints

The land trust, if it had two years, perhaps could find a way to help someone purchase the Nelson farm without involving GMP, Livingston said. However, the beef farmers urgently need a new farm now, and matching money cannot be found that quickly for such deals.

“The only way to get it done was several hundred thousand dollars from another party,” he said. “It’s true the Nelsons are in an impossible position. We had hoped we could contribute to help.”

Thursday Hearing

The Lowell wind project, called Kingdom Community Wind, is the focus of a hearing 7 p.m. Thursday at Lowell Graded School.

The Public Service Board will seek public comment about the wind development project.