LOWELL – If Don and Shirley Nelson are mules standing stubbornly in the way of its industrial wind project on Lowell Mountain, Green Mountain Power tried to move them Tuesday with both a carrot and a stick.
The carrot came by telephone Tuesday morning. The utility’s president, Mary Powell, called the Nelsons to say Green Mountain Power (GMP) would buy their 580-acre farm at the asking price of $1.25-million.
The stick arrived by courier Tuesday afternoon. It was a letter from GMP’s attorney threatening to sue the Nelsons if they persist in letting “guests” occupy a campsite too close to the top of the project site to permit blasting. The damages GMP would attempt to recover could easily exceed $1-million, the letter said, and punitive damages might also be sought.
“I can take one and a quarter million and run, or be fined a million bucks,” Mr. Nelson said Tuesday. “That’s a good way to handle a Vermont farmer on his retirement.”
As of late Tuesday afternoon Mr. Nelson said he and his wife had not decided what to do. GMP’s lawyer, Jeffrey Behm, had demanded an answer by noon Wednesday, October 12. Mr. Nelson said he had an appointment with his lawyer at 10 a.m. that morning.
The farm, which sits high on the eastern slope of Lowell Mountain above Albany Village, has been for sale for years. It was originally priced at $1.5- million, Mr. Nelson said. “But when they started putting up these damn wind farms, we had to knock the price down.”
His real estate agent, Dan Maclure, has brought the farm up at public meetings to demonstrate that industrial-scale wind projects lower area property values.
But if the farm is for sale, Mr. Nelson said Tuesday, “I sure as hell didn’t want to sell to them bastards.”
This is not GMP’s first attempt to move the couple – who have proved to be determined and eloquent opponents of the wind project – off their farm. Just over a year ago GMP was behind a complex deal that involved the Vermont Land Trust and the Nelsons’ neighbor and chief advocate for harnessing the mountain’s wind, Trip Wileman.
The land trust would buy the development rights to the farm using a contribution, expected to be $250,000, from Mr. Wileman which Mr. Wileman, in turn, would borrow from GMP. A young farm family from Brookfield would buy the farm and raise beef cattle there.
When first asked about the deal, GMP spokesman Dorothy Schnure denied that the utility would play any financial role – a claim she later corrected. Ms. Powell, the GMP president, was chairman of the Vermont Land Trust board when the idea of buying the farm was first proposed to its president, Gil Livingston.
The deal fell apart when the Nelsons learned of Mr. Wileman’s involvement, and his demand for a right-of-way across the farm.
At any rate, Mr. Maclure said at the time, the offer of $870,000 fell short of the Nelson’s asking price. This time, it seems, GMP is prepared to step into the open as the buyer, and pay the full asking price.
Mr. Nelson said he and his wife accepted an invitation to meet with Ms. Powell and another GMP executive, Robert Dostis, at a Stowe restaurant on Monday.
“They tried to get us to say we wanted them to buy us out,” Mr. Nelson said Tuesday. He said the utility executives brought up another couple who lived close to the project and had opposed it vigorously. They recently sold their home to GMP or an agent of the utility, and moved to a nearby town.
They brought up the woman’s name, Mr. Nelson said, and said she “came to us, and of course we were glad to buy her out.”
After an hour and a quarter of conversation, Mr. Nelson said, “I shook both their hands and got up and walked out.” When Ms. Powell called Tuesday morning with
her offer, Mr. Nelson said, she said “you can live there if you want,” but urged him to respond quickly.
When Mr. Nelson reached Mr. Maclure at Century 21 Farm & Forest Realty, Inc., the agent said he’d already heard from GMP. “He said, ‘They want me to go to Colchester and get the money,’” Mr. Nelson reported.
A collection of six small tents and a rough field kitchen on the western edge of the Nelson farm is perhaps the opponents’ last hope of stalling – if not stopping – the project.
Mr. Nelson said last week he was asked if he would host the campsite, and quickly agreed. The idea was that blasting could not safely go on with people so close to the project.
In the letter he sent Tuesday, Mr. Behm, the GMP attorney, said the utility’s contractor plans to start blasting in the area on October 17 and to continue for two or three weeks.
If the Nelsons permitted their guests to remain within the 1,000-foot safety zone around the blast site, he wrote, that could amount to “intentional interference with a contract,” which he called “an actionable nuisance.”
Such action could raise the cost of power, the lawyer wrote, and the utility “will vigorously pursue recovery of all monetary damages in order to protect its customers from a cost increase.”
“We’re trying to do what’s right for all the people who supported us,” Mr. Nelson said. “It’s a hard position to be in, I’m telling you.”
“GMP knows if they buy us out, they’ve got the green light – and they can use this land for mitigation purposes.”
Whatever the couple decides to do, Mr. Nelson made one thing clear Tuesday: “I don’t plan on living under a wind farm.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding