LOWELL – Chronicle publisher Chris Braithwaite was arrested for trespassing while covering a protest at Lowell Mountain Monday.
“I plan to plead innocent,” Mr. Braithwaite said Tuesday.
When approached by Chief Deputy Phil Brooks of the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department, he told the officer he was there to cover the arrest and would walk back down the mountain as soon as the arrest was over. He moved to the edge of the clearing, which he said was about 50 feet away from where protesters were getting arrested.
“I understand he has a job to do,” said Chief Deputy Brooks. “He just needed to do it from further back.”
Mr. Braithwaite said if he had moved back far enough to be off the disputed property, he would not have been able to witness the arrests because he would have been behind the trees.
Mr. Brooks said he gave Mr. Braithwaite two warnings, instructions that he needed to leave Green Mountain Power’s property or be arrested. He had only given the protesters one warning.
Mr. Braithwaite has been covering the Lowell wind project from the beginning. He’s hiked up the mountain eight times when protesters said they were planning to stage a demonstration.
“It seemed to me that Lowell has been an issue of intense public interest, judging by our own letters section,” he said. “It seemed to me that the only way to cover that was to walk up and see it.… This was in some sense the climactic moment.”
The events of the day started at about 6:30 a.m., Mr. Braithwaite said. The protesters had been keeping him informed about when they were going to have a demonstration. He drove to Lowell and hiked up the mountain. He interviewed people and took photos as protesters blocked the construction roadway.
The protesters made a point to stay on land that the Nelsons, neighbors of the wind project, believe is theirs. The property line dispute is still in court and has not been settled.
Mr. Brooks said he was called by Green Mountain Power officials, who said some people were trespassing on the wind project site. He asked the officials specifically if anyone had permission to be there, or if everyone on the site would be considered to be trespassing.
“Green Mountain Power had not given permission,” he said, to anyone, including the press. In other words, Mr. Braithwaite had no more permission to be on their property than the protesters did.
Mr. Brooks said he is aware that the property line is in dispute, but at this particular moment in time that property was in the lawful possession of Green Mountain Power and they had the right to order people off it.
“He was another individual that was up there,” said Mr. Brooks.
Chief Deputy Brooks said that, in fact, he has been in the same position as Mr. Braithwaite and had to leave someone’s private property when he was just trying to do his job. He had been hired to escort someone onto a piece of property. The landowner told him to leave, so he had to leave.
“We were in the same shoes that Chris was in,” he said.
“We had hoped to avoid any arrests,” said Dotty Schnure of Green Mountain Power on Tuesday. She said the company does take reporters up to the site – but not without safety equipment and training.
“That’s a requirement. That’s a VOSHA requirement,” she said. “No one called yesterday to ask for permission,” she said.
She said if Mr. Braithwaite had called and asked, GMP could have given him the proper safety equipment and training and then could have given him permission to be there.
She said the company has taken about half a dozen reporters up to the work site after they got equipment and training.
Mr. Braithwaite was taken to the Derby State Police office. He was fingerprinted and his mug shot was taken. Then he was cited to appear in the criminal division of Orleans Superior Court for unlawful trespassing and released.
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