NEWPORT CITY – A judge has issued a temporary restraining order against Lowell farmers Don and Shirley Nelson and their campers, ordering them to get out of the way when blasting occurs at the Lowell wind project.
Judge Martin Maley handed down the order Friday afternoon at the request of Lowell wind developer Green Mountain Power, according to a copy obtained by The Record.
GMP, which is in the process of constructing roads and sites for 21 large wind turbines on the Lowell ridgeline, also has permission to post signs on the Nelson property to delineate the blast zone, according to the temporary restraining order.
GMP’s attorneys sought the restraining order Thursday in Orleans Superior Court – Civil Division.
GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said the Nelsons were served the order Friday afternoon.
“This is all about safety. We simply asked for the Nelsons’ friends to move during blasting so that we can proceed safely with building cost-effective wind energy for GMP customers and Vermont Electric Cooperative members,” Schnure said.
“It will allow us to ensure the safety of everyone on the mountain during blasting operations,” Schnure said.
The order is set to expire on Oct. 26 unless it is extended. A hearing is set for Thursday at 1:45 p.m. in Orleans Superior Court where the Nelsons would be able to challenge the temporary order.
The Nelsons, former dairy farmers in their late 60s, have allowed campers to pitch tents on their property line at the ridgeline, right next to where GMP contractors are building a road and preparing sites for wind turbines. The camp is within the 1,000-foot blast zone – causing GMP’s blasting contractor to stop work, at least temporarily.
The campers’ goal has been to stall if not stop the blasting and the entire project.
There had been fear that rocks flying from the blasting could hurt people in the camp.
Schnure said crews could limit the danger by using more “blasting mats” – heavy blankets of rubber and steel laid on top of the area to be blown up. It would be an added cost by slowing down the work.
This week, GMP offered to buyout the Nelsons and also threatened to sue them over the campsite.
On Tuesday, GMP offered to buy the 580-acre property at the asking price of $1.25 million. The Nelsons have been trying to sell the farm for years.
The full-price offer came in a phone call from GMP CEO Mary Powell on Tuesday morning, Nelson said. That afternoon, a courier delivered a letter from GMP attorneys threatening to sue and saying the couple could be liable for more than $1 million.
That’s why he raised his asking price to $2.25 million, Don Nelson said.
“If you’ve got a threat of a lawsuit of a million dollars, you kind of want to add that on just in case,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press Thursday.
“It’s high-stakes poker. They blinked Monday” by offering to buy the farm, Nelson said.
GMP could make a new offer if the Nelsons lower the list price back to $1.25 million, Schnure said Friday.
Schnure said blasting is expected to resume Monday under the restraining order.
Maley granted the temporary restraining order as requested by GMP.
“The court finds based on the affidavits, exhibits and points of law submitted by (GMP) that it will sustain irreparable injury, loss or damage” if GMP had to wait for a formal hearing, the judge wrote.
“The court finds that defendants Donald and Shirley Nelson themselves, and with other persons … will be as of Oct. 17 improperly interfering with (GMP’s) development of a wind generation project in Lowell … intentionally occupying the northwesterly boundary of the Nelsons’ property adjoining the project in close to blasting planned … to start on Oct. 17.”
“The purpose of the defendants (and the campers) is to place themselves inside a 1,000-foot safety zone in order to create a risk to human safety that will prevent the blasting from taking place and thereby cause irreparable injury, loss and damage to GMP and the public,” Maley wrote.
The order says that the Nelsons, their attorneys, the campers or anyone else acting in concert with them are prohibited from being in the 1,000-foot safety zone during blasting, including one hour before and one hour afterward. The Nelsons are prohibited from “inviting, encouraging or permitting other individuals to be present within 1,000 feet of the northwesterly boundary” during the three-hour blast window, the order says.
Blasting is only allowed between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays and not on holidays. “Each morning GMP will contact the Nelson defendants by telephone and provide a two-hour period of time that day when the actual blasting will occur,” the order says.
“Five minutes prior to the blast a whistle audible to a distance of one half mile will be sounded three times in quick succession; one minute prior to the blast a whistle will be sounded twice in quick succession.
“After blasting is completed, a continuous whistle will sound once for five continuous seconds indicating the blasting has concluded giving the all clear,” the order says.
GMP won state approval earlier this year for an estimated $156 million project to build 21 wind turbines that are more than 400 feet tall and are projected to produce enough power for about 24,000 homes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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