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Kingdom Wind: Protesters get set for court date

LOWELL – Six protesters and one reporter are due in court Tuesday morning to face charges of trespassing at the Lowell wind project site.

In anticipation of the court date, protesters are planning a rally in front of the courthouse beginning at about 8 a.m. A press conference is expected to follow the hearings in Orleans Superior Court–Criminal Division.

A judge has to find probable cause for the charges before those cited can be arraigned.

The seven were cited on charges of trespassing Dec. 5 after they walked onto the crane path under construction for Green Mountain Power on the ridgeline and blocked construction vehicles for several hours.

Arrested were: Dr. Ron Holland, 67, of Irasburg, an emergency doctor at North Country Hospital; Anne Morse, 48, of Craftsbury Common, a Sterling College professor; David Rodgers, 69, of Craftsbury; Ryan Gillard, 23, of Plainfield; Suzanna Jones, 50, of Walden; and Eric Wallace-Senft, 46, of Wolcott.

The journalist is Christopher Braithwaite, publisher of The Chronicle in Barton.

Protesters have been raising money to defend the six on their website at lowellmountainnews. The site features regular blogs, videos and photographs of protests at the mountain and other events.

Two other protesters were arrested and have pleaded not guilty to criminal contempt of court. Sheriff’s deputies said they violated a court order forbidding anyone from being in a blast safety zone on neighboring property owned by retired farmers Don and Shirley Nelson during designated times of blasting.

That court order has expired.

There is no more blasting near the Nelson property.

GMP is preparing the ridgeline in advance of plans to erect 21 industrial-grade wind turbines next year. The crane path on the ridgeline will lead from the access road to each turbine site.

The work is now contingent on the state regulators on the Vermont Public Service Board, which has been asked to approve a plan to protect almost 1,700 acres in a fragment-conservation easement on the western side of the ridgeline in Eden.

The conservation deal cost GMP $1 million and has the support of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. The board told GMP to have the deal in place by the end of the year.

Without board approval, work on the wind project will have to stop as of Dec. 31.

Meanwhile work is still under way, with contractors taking advantage of the unseasonably warm conditions.

“Work at the wind farm is progressing well with favorable weather conditions during the past couple weeks,” GMP officials said in a statement Thursday.

“Four turbine pad areas are substantially complete. Bates & Murray Electrical Contractors are installing conduit for underground electric on top of the mountain,” according to GMP officials. “JA McDonald continues to excavate rock and construct the crane path and storm water systems. Maine Drilling and Blasting is working both north and south along the crane path.

“Blasting operations are finished along roughly one-third of the crane path. Tree clearing is complete along more than half along the crane path as well,” according to the press release.

The project also includes transmission line work to handle the electricity to be generated from the turbines.

“New poles are being set and wire is being prepared to be pulled along Route 100 between Lowell and Westfield. Work along the roadside is expected to be completed by year’s end. Work on the new Lowell substation is progressing, as well as work on the Jay 17 substation where the concrete was poured this week. On the mountain, fiber has been installed between Route 100 and the collector substation,” according to GMP officials.

About 200 people with the various companies are working on the site and on the lines.

“There are 13 different Vermont-based firms working on the project. Of the 61 new positions created as a result of the Kingdom Community Wind project, 47 Vermonters have been hired,” officials said. “JA McDonald of Lyndon Center has 70 employees conducting site construction activities in Lowell. Employees with ADA Security of Newport are providing site security for the project.”

Others include employees with GMP and its partner, Vermont Electric Cooperative, and other Vermont utility companies.