On Sept. 28 2011, while Occupy Wall Street entered it’s second week of high-profile coverage for their occupation of Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, an occupation of a very different kind began taking place in Lowell, VT. Those occupying the ‘blast zone’ on Lowell Mountain, have adopted code names to protect themselves legally and have been chronicling the experience on a blog called Mountain Talk.
Concerned citizens have worked together to oppose the Canadian-owned Green Mountain Power’s (GMP) bid to clear-cut and blast 134 acres of ridge top to install 21 industrial wind turbines in this environmentally-sensitive area. There are also real concerns about the impact this project could have on the $1.4 billion dollars of tourism Vermont’s famous Green Mountains draw to the state.
Left with no other options, residents began a legal occupation of private property that falls within the blast zone (where flying rocks could be expected to land during the planned blasting should rocks cross the property line). Vermont’s Attorney General William Sorrell has made it clear state authorities are powerless to intervene on behalf of GMP; “There is no criminal violation that comes readily to mind,” he said.
Since then, approximately a dozen visitors at any one time have taken up residence camping on the ridge top on land owned by Don and Shirley Nelson. Don Nelson defends the move by saying, “Those campers are friends, neighbours from all over the state. I’ve always had my land open and they asked if they could go up there and camp and that’s what they’re doing.”
GMP has changed it’s initial position, which had previously been that they were currently blasting and clear-cutting the other side of the mountain and this conflict wouldn’t come to a head until the winter and has made two significant moves last week to attempt to solve the impasse.
Last Monday GMP offered the Nelsons their full public asking price $1.25 million to sell their land to GMP. Shortly after Nelsons received a legal notice from GMP threatening them of potential time delay-related liabilities of approximately a million dollars as a result of the ongoing occupation. The Nelsons responded to their potential changing financial needs by increasing their asking price by the one million dollars they now had reason to believe there were to be sued for. GMP responded by pulling the offer to purchase their farm, and occupiers continue their camping adventure within the majestic beauty of Vermont’s Green Mountains.
GMP’s position on whether the occupiers were an issue or not has changed as well, with the company stating last Thursday they could use blasting mats to prevent the potential of crushing people on neighbouring properties with flying boulders, before winning a court order last Friday to require the Nelsons’ guests to stay at least 1,000 feet back from the blast zone while GMP blows up portions of the mountain. Concerned citizens have stated they will not be leaving the mountain, and have received civil disobedience training the Monday following the court order.
Further complicating GMP’s position is a stop work order issued by the State of Vermont on the side of the mountain currently being clear-cut and blasted, where GMP experienced a problem more common to mountaintop removal coal mining operations, sedimentary runoffs that have an adverse environmental impact. According to David Mears, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, “These were fairly serious violations of the storm water permit…”
This isn’t the first environmentally-focused blockade or occupation against the irresponsible practices of the wind industry. In July 2011, six activists were arrested in Denmark after a 10-day blockade aimed at preventing clear-cutting to make way for an industrial wind research centre. Construction of industrial wind turbines on New Hampshire’s Kirby Mountains also met civil disobedient resistance when 50 members of Earth First! protested and some chained themselves to a truck carrying a massive blade to the construction site, halting operations for the day. In 2009, a British sit-in lasted 19 days at a soon-to-be closed Vestas wind turbine blade factory on the Isle of Wright.
The Lowell Mountains occupation has a created an interesting legal situation by deadlocking competing legal rights and interests. It serves as a lesson to all Vermonters that democracy and defiance is alive and well in their famed Green Mountains, and for now, so is the environmentally sensitive habitat that occupiers are seeking to protect.