NEWPORT CITY – An Orleans Superior Court judge conducted a status conference by telephone Friday morning in the case of Green Mountain Power versus Don and Shirley Nelson of Lowell and protesters of the Lowell wind project.
Judge Martin Maley spoke with attorneys for GMP and for the Nelsons, plus Orleans County Sheriff Kirk Martin and Captain Tim Clouatre, Vermont State Police Troop B commander.
The status conference was an effort to resolve issues left hanging from Tuesday’s hearing about the judge’s temporary restraining order.
Maley had issued an order intended to stop protesters from interfering with blasting by GMP contractors on the Lowell wind project site.
The protesters have gathered daily, including Friday, to stand on ridgeline property owned by the Nelsons within a 1,000-foot blasting safety zone in hopes of stopping work on the wind project.
However, Maley’s original restraining order did not provide the legal basis for local law enforcement officers to act to move or arrest anyone.
GMP says the presence of the protesters will slow and limit blasting, costing time and money for the construction of 21 wind turbines on the ridgeline that were approved by state regulators.
Clouatre said Friday that he was part of the telephone hearing but he could not talk about what was said in the hearing or whether VSP had an attorney involved.
The sheriff could not be reached for comment.
The existing temporary restraining order expires Sunday. There is no blasting allowed on the weekends.
Nothing was filed with the civil court clerks in Newport City by the judge as of closing time Friday afternoon.
GMP is seeking a preliminary injunction, suing the Nelsons and others for slowing construction enough to possibly cost the utility and its ratepayers $47 million in federal income tax credits. The credits expire at the end of 2012. GMP said continued protests would push construction past that point but would not stop the project from continuing.
Protesters say the project will harm the watershed of local rivers and damage the mountain environment.
In response, the Nelsons are suing GMP for infringing on their property by needing to use part of the property as a blast safety zone.
On Friday, material from a scheduled blast did fly across the property line.
GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said that a blast was conducted. GMP officials or contractors warned the protesters to move outside the safety zone, she said.
Seven protesters remained in the zone but were encouraged to protect themselves by standing behind trees, she said.
No “fly-rock” from the blast landed outside the work area on the Lowell wind site property, she said. But a 1.5-foot by 2-foot section of blast matting, made of old rubber tires, flew across the property line, she said.
There was no damage to Nelson property and no one was hurt, she said. “The mat worked as designed in that no rock left the project site.”
A blogger at Lowell Mountain News online, the daily blog for the protesters, told a slightly different story:
“A call received from one of the hikers on the top:
“2 pieces of fly-rock landed about 50 feet onto the Nelsons’ property.
“1 piece of blasting mat about 15 feet onto the Nelsons’ property,” the blogger said.
The blog has followed the actions of the protesters, noting that they have not seen any law enforcement officer on the ridgeline to stop them since they began standing in the safety zone in earnest nearly every day this week.
“We are persistent!” the blog stated Thursday. “Apparently they were asked to obey the 1,000-foot restraining order, which they did not! But there were no police to enforce it!”
“Could it be that the police are confused about kicking people off private property? We can only hope! We Vermonters aren’t real keen on people telling us what we can and can’t do on our own [Nelsons’] property,” the blog states.
The Nelsons welcomed the protesters at first, helping them find the trail to the ridge and set up camp and even kept track of the protesters to make sure no one got hurt.
But once GMP sued, the Nelsons posted signs near their farmhouse in the valley below the ridgeline to the east. Don Nelson told the judge that he did not know most of the protesters.
A legal defense fund has been set up to help the Nelsons pay for their court costs, with donors asked to send money directly to the Nelsons’ attorneys in Norwich.
GMP offered to buy the Nelson property for the asking price of $1.25 million after the Nelsons wrote GMP to warn that protesters would occupying the blast safety zone. Then GMP sued the Nelsons.
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