LOWELL – Five State Police officers, three deputy sheriffs and two police dogs confronted a single demonstrator atop Lowell Mountain Monday morning.
After discussing the details of the injunction that the police were there to enforce, the demonstrator, Dr. Ron Holland of Irasburg, walked down the mountain and avoided arrest.
He was escorted down the steep trail by two sheriff’s deputies, who stopped by a sign marking the edge of the 1,000-foot safety zone demanded by blasters. They are building a crane path along about four miles of the Lowell Mountain ridgeline for 21 wind turbines that Green Mountain Power (GMP) plans to erect.
On Tuesday a smaller police force, minus the dogs, had a similar meeting with two demonstrators and two state representatives, Sam Young of Glover and Peter Peltz of Woodbury.
The four left the ridgeline as ordered. Indeed no opponent to the industrial wind project has been arrested since Friday, November 4, when police finally began to enforce Superior Court Judge Martin Maley’s order. Issued on October 14, it orders protesters (and everybody else) to stay out of the safety zone when GMP is blasting.
The order itself was appealed to the state Supreme Court on Tuesday by Scott McGee, attorney for Don and Shirley Nelson. They own a 600-acre farm that abuts the wind project along the ridgeline – the land demonstrators have occupied in their efforts to halt the blasting.
In the “complaint for extraordinary relief” he filed Tuesday, Mr. McGee said Judge Maley’s preliminary injunction violated both the Nelsons’ right to the exclusive possession of their own land, and their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly.
The attorney argues that GMP never established any right to use part of the Nelsons’ land for a safety zone. He continued:
“The superior court’s preliminary injunction effectively grants GMP a license to use the Nelsons’ property which GMP otherwise would have no right to use. This is a misuse of court power that tramples the rights of Vermont landowners to accommodate a large corporation.”
Furthermore, Mr. McGee argues, the injunction violates the Nelsons’ rights under the Vermont Constitution to hunt on their own land, and invite their guests to do so.
The complaint says the high court’s “immediate and extraordinary relief is necessary.” Any delay, it says, will permit GMP to complete its blasting and end any chance for the Nelsons to preserve their constitutional rights.
GMP’s contractor, Maine Drilling and Blasting, never stopped its blasting operations, even when protesters remained in the safety zone. It did, however, use smaller blasts and more protective matting when protesters were present.
The extra time and expense involved was the basis of GMP’s request for the order Judge Maley issued on October 14 in the form of a temporary restraining order, and renewed on November 1 as a preliminary injunction.
Police never enforced the restraining order, but came to the ridgeline on November 4 with orders to read the injunction to protesters and arrest those who refused to heed it.
As of Tuesday, no protesters have opted to carry their opposition to the wind project to the point of arrest.
On Monday, seriously outnumbered by eight law officers and their two dogs, Dr. Holland engaged Chief Deputy Phil Brooks in a brief discussion about time, and the protesters’ right to be on Lowell Mountain.
Instead of ordering protesters off the mountain two hours before a scheduled blast, as the injunction demands, Dr. Holland suggested that a warning horn be sounded 30 minutes before each blast.
“Two hours does seem like it’s pushing us off a little too much,” he said.
Mr. Brooks said he would pass on the request.
“The Honorable Martin Maley makes the point that my being here today, and the Nelsons allowing me to be here, is causing irreparable harm or damage to Green Mountain Power and the public of Vermont,” Dr. Holland said.
“Of course our point is the opposite – that the state of Vermont and Green Mountain Power are doing irreparable damage to this mountain, and to the state, and to the public,” Dr. Holland continued.
“We aren’t very powerful people,” he said. “But the Constitution says we have the right of free speech and we have freedom of the press. We’re exercising the tools that we have. Give us as much opportunity as you can to use our First Amendment rights.”
Both sides recorded the encounter on video tape. Dr. Holland posted his version on the protesters’ Internet blog: lowellmountainsnews.wordpress.com.
Both legislators said they hiked up to the ridgeline Tuesday morning as observers rather than protesters. Representative Peltz said he decided to visit the project after talking to protesters outside a Democratic Party function in Barre over the weekend. He asked Representative Young to go along.
Mr. Peltz said he had mixed feelings about the project itself, but was deeply impressed by a later conversation with the Nelsons.
Mr. Young said he opposes the project, but has no intention of getting arrested.
“It went just fine,” he said of the visit. “It was a nice hike, a beautiful day.”
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