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Judge: Utility may continue blasting for Lowell wind project

A Vermont Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that Green Mountain Power Corp. may continue blasting on Lowell Mountain to make way for a 21-turbine wind project, discounting neighbors’ arguments that the blasting interferes with their land.

Judge Martin Maley continued a restraining order until Dec. 2, ordering neighbors and protesters to stay at least 1,000 feet from blasting atop the mountain.

Don and Shirley Nelson, whose land abuts the property where Green Mountain Power is building, had fought the order in Superior Court in Orleans County.

Maley said in his ruling that the Nelsons and the protesters were “improperly interfering” with Green Mountain Power’s project. He said the utility would suffer irreparable harm if its work were delayed by protesters.

He concluded that any harm to the Nelsons and the protesters caused by not being able to use a small portion of the Nelsons’ property during blasting was temporary.

Green Mountain Power began construction last month on the project, including blasting to make way for a crane path and turbine paths at the top of the mountain. Roughly a dozen protesters had been camping out on a remote portion of the Nelsons’ land, within 1,000 feet of the blasting in hopes of delaying the project.

The order says people in the blasting zone on the private land must move at least two hours before the scheduled blast and remain out of the area until the all-clear whistle has sounded.

Law-enforcement authorities can go onto the Nelsons’ land and inform the protesters of the order, which says, “Persons who refuse to move away from the boundary as directed by this order shall be removed, arrested and, after being properly identified, issued a citation to appear before this court.”

Maley directed the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department to cite those who defy the order.

Blasting takes place on the mountain every day, but not necessarily in the area near the Nelsons’ property, Green Mountain Power spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said. She said she didn’t know when police would be asked to enforce the judge’s order. She said efforts were being made to persuade the protesters to move voluntarily with the help of a mediator.

“We’re hopeful they can make their statement without putting themselves and others at risk,” Schnure said. “It’s all about safety for us.”

The protesters object to the project because they see it as the despoiling of a pristine mountain for little environmental gain. As part of their ongoing protest, a small number have been camping on the Nelsons’ land near where Green Mountain Power is blasting.

Don Nelson said Tuesday that he wouldn’t keep the protesters off the remote corner of his land, nor would he enforce the order issued on behalf of Green Mountain Power.

“They’re going up on other peoples’ land and then coming onto mine,” Nelson said. “I don’t stop people going up and down a public road. If Green Mountain Power wants to stop them, they can. I’m tired of it. I’m sick of the whole thing and have been for some time.”

None of the protesters on the mountain Tuesday could be reached for comment. Craftsbury resident Steve Wright, who supports their goals and has been meeting with them regularly, said he didn’t know what the protesters, who vary in number from two or three to a dozen or more, would do if faced with arrest.

“People are free to act on their own judgment and based on what they feel they need to do,” Wright said. “The only advice that we have been offering to any folks in that contest is stay safe and be respectful of the authorities and do whatever you need to do.”

Contributing: Terri Hallenbeck, Burlington Free Press; Wilson Ring, The Associated Press.