(Host) Green Mountain Power has won a court order that requires opponents of its Lowell Mountain wind project to stay away from its construction zone during blasting periods.
The legal action was the latest development in a showdown between GMP and a group of protesters over the company’s construction of 21 turbines.
VPR’s John Dillon was in Lowell this week and has this report on the situation.
(Don Nelson) “Come in! We’ve got a madhouse here.”
(Dillon) All day long, visitors stop by Don and Shirley Nelson’s farmhouse at the foot of Lowell Mountain. Their dog Barney barks a welcome at each person who checks in.
(Nelson) “You want the sign in paper? You’re going up the mountain? Between milking cows?”
(Fromm) “I finished haying yesterday for a couple of days, so I figured I’d head up there.”
(Dillon) Shirley Nelson welcomes Neil Fromm, a dairy farmer from East Albany. He’s done with morning chores and wants to check out the construction work on the ridgeline.
It’s a muddy, steep hike up Lowell Mountain. I climb up with Ira Powsner, a student at Sterling College, and an organizer with Energize Vermont. The nonprofit group has questioned large-scale wind turbines on Vermont’s ridgelines.
(Powsner) “This is the steepest part right here, then we’re about 100 yards away from the camp, so we’re pretty close to the first tent. And it’s a beautiful, chilly fall day. And up we go.”
(Dillon) The campsite is spread out along the ridge, near bright orange boundary tape that marks the construction site. There’s no work going on today. But one camper says they’ve felt the ground shake as contractors removed ledge for the wide road to the top.
The protesters number about a dozen at a time. Several have camped over night, and they had planned to occupy the safety zone around the work site so no blasting could take place.
Powsner notes that signs posted on nearby trees warn people to stay away.
(Powsner) “This is a blasting warning on the tree. It says to ensure public safety and to protect sensitive environmental resources, unauthorized entry is strictly prohibited.”
(Dillon) Green Mountain Power has fought back against the protesters and the Nelsons – who own the land next to the turbine site. GMP last week offered to buy the Nelson farm for its asking price of $1.25 million.
Then the company said the retired dairy farmers could be liable for $1 million in damages if the campers delayed the project. On Friday, the company won an order from Orleans Superior Court that requires the Nelsons to keep people 1,000 feet away from the blasting zone an hour before or after the blasting is to occur.
Dorothy Schnure is a GMP spokeswoman.
(Schnure) “This is all about safety. We need to proceed on schedule to build this wind project. And if there are people purposely standing within the safety zone, we need to have a way to have them moved.”
(Dillon) The threat of legal action was the last straw for farmer Neil Fromm. He’s the guy who stopped by the Nelson’s kitchen earlier, then hiked up to visit the campers.
(Fromm) “That’s what got up me up here today, was reading in the paper, it’s like Green Mountain Power, we’ll buy your property or we’ll sue you for a million dollars. That’s just ridiculous. It’s just to me, it’s just the little guy being trampled by the big guy. A lot of people are sick of it, you know.”
(Dillon) But Green Mountain Power says the project protects the environment while producing renewable energy. Schnure says the protesters don’t speak for the Vermont public at large and that the company has the permits it needs to start construction.
(Schnure) “We know that most Vermonters say they want wind. We know that the people of Lowell have voted in favorite of it. We know that the Public Service Board has reviewed it and found it in the public good. And now we have a small group of people who are up there saying they don’t want the project and it should stop. It really seems like they’re subverting the democratic process.”
(Dillon) Meanwhile, the Public Service Board on Friday held the first hearing on several appeals to storm water permits granted for project.
For VPR News, I’m John Dillon.