NEWPORT – A judge ruled late Thursday that visitors camping out on land in Lowell near where Green Mountain Power Corp. is blasting rock to make room for a 21-turbine wind project have to stay clear of the blasting, at least until another court hearing is held.
Judge Martin Maley issued the ruling after more than a three-hour hearing in Orleans Superior Court in Newport.
At issue is whether protesters should be able to set up camp on land abutting where Green Mountain Power is building the turbines. As blasting started this week, up to a dozen people made the hour-long hike on land owned by Don and Shirley Nelson in hopes of delaying construction on the controversial project.
Green Mountain Power won a temporary restraining order early in the week ordering the Nelsons to tell their guests to stay at least 1,000 feet away from blasting. Lawyers for the Nelsons objected, prompting Thursday’s hearing.
Maley said he thought it would be inappropriate to require the Nelsons to remove people from their own land, and someone else would have to enforce the order. But the judge declined to throw out the restraining order, choosing instead to modify it and put it in place for 10 days.
It was mostly a win for Green Mountain Power. Spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said the company would see about having the Sheriff’s Department enforce the order.
Two of the campers, who have declined to identify themselves, said as they left court that it was too early to say whether they would abide by the revised order.
Lawyers for both sides were working with the judge on the wording into the evening, but it was expected to require people to stay at least 1,000 feet away for an hour before and after blasting.
Various issues in contention between the Nelsons and Green Mountain Power remained unsettled when Maley declared the court was out of time for the day. He planned to schedule another hearing for next week. The hearing couldn’t continue today because courts are closed as part of the state’s cost-cutting measures, Maley noted.
Groups of protesters have convened on land the Nelsons own next to the ridgeline where Green Mountain Power started construction last month. The protesters refused to move at least 1,000 feet away when asked Wednesday and Thursday. No one was reported injured by any debris during the first two days of blasting.
Steven Blaisdell, vice president of Maine Drilling & Blasting, which is doing the blasting work for Green Mountain Power, said his company has never run into a blasting situation where people refused to move.
He testified his company is expecting to produce 5,000 cubic yards of rock a day by clearing rock off the mountain to make room for a crane path atop the mountain. To make sure no debris would reach the protesters, the crew would have to use less force and more tempering measures, slowing the project by 5.5 weeks and costing more than $1 million, he said.
Scott McGee, a lawyer representing the Nelsons, presented state fire code regulations that say that a neighbor’s permission must be given to permit blasting that will come within 1,000 yards of the neighbors’ property.
Blaisdell conceded the Nelsons’ permission had not been sought. He said officials didn’t believe anyone would be on the difficult-to-reach land. GMP tried to buy the Nelsons’ property for $1.25 million, but the couple turned them down.
Jeffrey Behm, attorney for Green Mountain Power, countered that the law allowed for a blaster without a neighbor’s permission to take further precautions.
The Nelsons also contend that GMP is blasting on some of their land. GMP claims the land is owned by Trip Wileland, from whom GMP is leasing it. That part of the case remains to be settled.
Green Mountain Power hopes to have the turbines in operation by Dec. 3, 2012, in time to receive $48 million in federal production tax credits.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding