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GMP wind project: Protesters challenge arrests

Protesters of the Kingdom Community Wind project in Lowell say two Sterling College students are innocent despite being in a blast safety zone on the Lowell ridgeline, contrary to a court order.

“As a group, the Mountain Occupiers do not believe these individuals were in violation of the court order and we are surprised that law enforcement chose to arrest them,” Dr. Ron Holland of Irasburg said in a statement on behalf of the protesters. “There was no intention on the part of this group or the individuals involved to violate the court order.”

In fact, Holland said Thursday, the protesters as a group do not want to be arrested.

“The group does not intend to violate the order,” he said.

Their mission, Holland said, is to stand witness to what the construction of the Lowell wind project is doing to the ridgeline.

Sheriff’s deputies arrested the students, Trevor D. Ring, 21, and David Martorana, 19, Wednesday morning for being in the 1,000-foot safety zone after the warning whistle had gone off alerting everyone that a blast was about to take place.

The pair, who attend the small college in Craftsbury Common, are cited to appear in court Tuesday on charges of criminal contempt of court. They could face a fine or jail time or both.

Tim Patterson, Sterling College spokesman, said Thursday that faculty members told him that the students did not intend to violate the court order.

The students have an attorney and are prepared to argue their case in court, Holland said.

Orleans Superior Court Judge Martin Maley issued the order giving Green Mountain Power authority to use police to clear a 1,000-foot safety zone in a two-hour window when blasting is underway on the Lowell wind site.

Law enforcement officers have enforced the order since Nov. 4. Before that, protesters stood in the safety zone and hindered or stopped blasting, prompting GMP to go to court.

The students were the first to be arrested in violation of the order. Don and Shirley Nelson, whose property borders the wind project, are challenging the order.

The students were found inside the blast safety zone on the property owned by the Nelsons near the ridgeline at 9:56 a.m. Wednesday, deputy Jonathan MacFarlane said.

They were there despite being warned in the past about the court order, knew they were in violation and were arrested, MacFarlane said.

MacFarlane said he was not the arresting officer but could discuss what had happened.

Holland said that law enforcement officers are required to read the complete order every time the warning whistle blows to anyone in the blast safety zone and provide a copy if asked every time.

He also said that he has had a long discussion with law enforcement officers about how the court order should be carried out, and said that he disagrees with how the deputies are handling it.

A video of the discussion appears on the protesters’ website, http://lowellmountainsnews.wordpress.com/.

Holland said he believes the students expected to be read the warning again and did not realize that they were about to be arrested.

MacFarlane said that Wednesday wasn’t the first day that the students had been on the protest line. They had been at the protest camp when the blast-warning whistle went off in the past and knew they shouldn’t have been there, he said.

Deputies had read the complete court order to the two students before, MacFarlane said. On Wednesday, they said that they had been given copies of the court order, he said.

They knew that they would be arrested if they were found in the safety zone again during the two-hour window ordered by the judge, he said.

“This arrest clearly documents the intensity of the conflict over the development of Vermont’s ridgelines for utility-scale wind projects,” Holland wrote on behalf of the protesters. “The mountain occupiers believe that [Wednesday’s] arrests were unnecessary and hope they are not a harbinger of things to come. GMP needs to learn how to be a good neighbor rather than manipulate the Shumlin Administration into forcing a bad project to completion.

“We stand united as members of the Mountain Occupation movement, with these two individuals, and thousands of other Vermonters, against GMP’s attempts to take our rights, damage our mountains and disrespect our communities. We will continue to fight for responsible answers to our energy challenges, and the Lowell wind project is not one of them,” Holland wrote.

“Proponents of these projects, Green Mountain Power, [GMP owner] Gaz Metro and the Shumlin administration, characterize these as critical to reduce green house gases,” he wrote. “Utility-scale turbines are promoted by Vermont’s environmental leadership as a ‘right way’ to do renewable energy generation.

“Opponents argue that they destroy irreplaceable natural habitat and degrade water quality,” Holland wrote. “Analysts demonstrate that they are not part of an effective strategy to reduce global warming and that both the electricity and the carbon dioxide emissions reductions are unnecessarily expensive.

“That expense will be borne by Vermont ratepayers. The only beneficiaries of these projects are the investors and the utilities,” Holland wrote.