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The Vermont Department of Public Service says that Green Mountain Power violated its certificate of public good for the Lowell wind project Oct. 28.
John Beling, DPS director for public advocacy, told state utility regulators this week that protesters were standing too close to the blasting area on the ridgeline, in violation of the certificate requirements.
GMP officials disagree, saying that the department is confusing the blast area at the wind site with the safety zone, which spreads out 1,000 feet beyond that. GMP says the blast area has been strictly controlled.
Also this week, police have continued to carry out a court order to move protesters away from the blast safety zone.
Opponents last week complained to regulators on the Vermont Public Service Board about the blasting needed to erect 21 industrial wind turbines next year.
An attorney for the towns of Albany and Craftsbury said several protesters said they saw blasted “fly rock” and a piece of blasting mat fly outside of the blast area onto neighboring land owned by opponents Don and Shirley Nelson.
Beling said there is a dispute about whether fly rock was propelled onto the Nelson property.
The violation occurred, Beling said, not because of the fly rock complaints, but because “there were a number of individuals present who were not authorized to be present in the ‘blasting area’ and who could have been struck by blast debris. This is a violation of condition 36 of the CPG,” Beling wrote.
On Oct. 28, GMP had not received a court order that state police could act on to move protesters away from the 1,000-foot blast safety zone. As of that day, protesters refused to move, and the GMP contractor reduced the size of the blast zone by using more blast mats and a smaller charge, GMP officials told the Public Service Board.
Protesters said debris did fall outside the blast area into the safety zone even though they were told it would not.
GMP contractors acknowledged that there were protesters within the 1,000-foot safety zone on that day.
However, GMP’s attorney said that there was no one in the “blasting area” which was located entirely on the wind project site and not on the neighboring Nelson property where the protesters were standing.
The blast Oct. 28 was smaller because of the protesters, was within the blast area, and was consistent with the certificate of public good, GMP attorney Peter Zamore wrote.
“All blasting has been conducted safely and in accordance with the CPG, all applicable rules and regulations and industry best practices,” GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said Tuesday.
“While protesters have been camped out on the mountain, the blasting company has postponed blasting, reduced the size of blasts, used matting and other safety measures to allow limited blasting to occur safely while the protesters refused to move and continued their efforts to stop construction from proceeding,” Schnure said in a statement.
“The DPS is mistaken in its suggestion that any blasting was not consistent with the CPG,” she said. “We are confident when the facts are understood, the PSB will agree that all blasting has been safe and in compliance.”
GMP had a restraining order in effect Oct. 28 and could have called in law enforcement officers, Beling wrote.
But in fact, police said that particular court order could not be enforced, and that’s why GMP did not have police on the wind site.
Beling did not note that in his brief. He did comment on GMP’s efforts to keep people safe.
“The department recognizes the difficult position GMP and its contractors are in,” Beling wrote. “However, GMP must adhere to the terms of the CPG and its blasting plan and ‘prevent unauthorized entry before each blast.’
“At this juncture, GMP has obtained a preliminary injunction from the Orleans Superior Court that should serve to prevent further instances of people being present within the safety zone when blasting occurs, assuming its terms are enforced,” Beling wrote.
“The department does not believe the board need do anything further in that regard,” he wrote.
The department is prepared to make a recommendation about the sanctions, if any, which would be needed if the board finds that GMP did violate its certificate, he wrote.
The department said police presence should prevent further violations.
On Monday and Tuesday this week, law enforcement officers accompanied by police dogs carried out the superior court order and escorted protesters out of the safety zone on the Nelson land. No one has been arrested or cited on contempt of court charges, as far as GMP is aware, Schnure said.
Protesters documented the police activity on their website, Lowell mountain news.
They said that eight to 10 officers and two police dogs were present to read the order on the Nelson property.
On Monday, there were three blasts scheduled, Schnure said.
Police read the court order clearing the safety zone in the morning on Monday to Dr. Ron Holland of Irasburg, a regular protester at the site, and Chris Braithwaite, publisher of The Chronicle of Barton, Schnure said.
They were served the notice and left the zone, she said.
Two more blasts were conducted Monday, with no one protesting the second blast and a small group of protesters moving out of the zone before the third blast, she said.
On Tuesday, police read the order to four protesters in the morning. They left the safety zone, Schnure said. There were no protesters present at the 1:55 p.m. blast. She did not have details about the afternoon blast.
The Record asked for a report from the Vermont State Police about activity on Lowell Mountain this week but had not received anything as of late Tuesday afternoon.
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