NEWPORT CITY – Six Lowell wind protesters pleaded not guilty Tuesday morning to trespassing charges and later vowed to do the same thing again if that’s what it takes to stop Green Mountain Power.
The six were arrested Dec. 5 after they hiked to the Lowell wind site and blockaded the crane path for hours before police arrived to arrest them at the request of GMP.
Also pleading not guilty was Chris Braithwaite, publisher of The Chronicle in Barton, who was arrested while covering the protest because he was there without permission.
One by one, the protesters stood before Judge Robert P. Gerety Jr. in a packed room in Orleans Superior Court–Criminal Division.
Dozens of supporters held a rally outside the courthouse at 8 a.m., crowded into the courtroom and cheered during a press conference afterward.
The protesters and Braithwaite were released on condition that they obey requests to return to court.
Gerety rejected the request by Orleans County State’s Attorney Alan Franklin for more conditions of release, specifically that they be ordered to stay at least 300 feet away from the property line at the wind site.
But Gerety also rejected a request by defense attorney Kristina Michelsen that the protesters could be released with no conditions at all.
Facing the charges were: Dr. Ron Holland, 67, of Irasburg, an emergency doctor at North Country Hospital in Newport City; Anne Morse, 48, of Craftsbury Common, a Sterling College professor; mason and writer David Rodgers, 69, of Craftsbury; mentor Ryan Gillard, 23, of Plainfield; farmer Suzanna Jones, 50, of Walden; and Eric Wallace-Senft, 46, of Woodbury, a sugar maker.
No one has a criminal record.
The charge of trespassing, a misdemeanor, carries a maximum penalty of not more than three months in prison, a $500 fine or both.
Everyone rejected a plea deal offered by Franklin of diversion, which would have meant that charges would eventually be dropped.
Franklin said diversion is a standard offer for this type of minor charge to someone without a criminal record.
Orleans County deputy sheriff Daniel Locke said in an affidavit that the protesters and Braithwaite went onto posted land Dec. 5 and refused to leave when law enforcement arrived. They were all arrested without conflict and not handcuffed.
David Coriell, a GMP spokesman, said in an affidavit that nine protesters blockaded the crane path on the mountain that morning. He asked them to leave, without success. They did not have protective gear and lacked permission to be there, he said.
When police arrived, several protesters left to avoid arrest, but the six remained and intended to be arrested, he said.
After the hearing, GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said she was there to observe only.
“Our interest is that it doesn’t happen again,” she said.
She was not bothered by the judge’s decision not to impose a condition that they stay away from the property line “as long as they aren’t trespassing, obstructing construction and causing safety hazards.”
The protesters did not tell the judge that they intended to try to enter the site again.
At a press conference at the Newport City Municipal Building after the hearing, a majority of the six protesters said they have every intention of going back to the site again to blockade construction – to applause from supporters.
They declined to say when.
They explained their cause.
Morse teared up as she called the mountaintops a sacred place to be protected.
“When is it time to put yourself on the line?” she asked, noting that she lives off the grid and supports renewable energy projects, but not industrial wind towers on ridgelines.
She said laws are not being upheld, the regulatory process protects corporations, not Vermonters, and there is no accounting for the environmental costs of a project.
Holland said he has had to tell his patients in the emergency room at North Country Hospital that he is a competent doctor.
Holland said he has not been asked about his protest by the hospital administration or board of directors. However, he said that he does have to renew his medical license every two years and he didn’t know if a criminal record would affect that process.
He challenged GMP’s right to change the ridgeline on land that is in dispute in court. They conducted the blockade specifically on land that neighbors Don and Shirley Nelson say is theirs. The Nelsons are seeking control of the land in court.
As of now, the land belongs to Trip Wileman of Lowell, who has leased it to GMP for the wind project.
“They blew it up before ensuring they had a legal right to do so,” Holland said.
And Holland said state regulators on the Vermont Public Service Board, which approved the wind project, did not take into account the environmental and economic costs.
Gillard said he wants to show the faults of the current system.
It’s a “misnomer” to call industrial-grade wind projects renewable, he said.
“I wanted to protect Vermont’s future for my children and grandchildren,” Wallace-Senft said.
Earlier, he said that the courtroom is another platform for the protesters.
Rodgers called the project and the support from politicians a scandal with serious conflicts of interest.
“The whole project moved from a bad idea … to environmental disaster,” Rodgers said. “People have sold their souls for power, for money.”
Jones said it is worth putting lives on the line to stop such a project. “Our government has shown extreme contempt for the democratic process,” she said.
And Jones said GMP is “greenwashing” the project.
Steve Wright, as spokesman for the protesters, urged supporters to help raise defense money for them and two college students facing charges of contempt of court for violating a court order by being near the wind project during blasting in November.
The defense fund has raised several thousand dollars, he said.
Some protesters were disappointed that the TV news crews did not attend the press conference or cover the court hearings.
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