Green Mountain Power is seeking a private property easement near the site of the 21st turbine proposed for the Lowell wind project.
The easement would give GMP the right to a 1,000-foot blast safety zone on private land in Eden adjacent to the wind project site.
If approved by state utility regulators, GMP would have temporary control of a swath of property owned by Jack Brooks Jr. and Laura Jacoby but only for a safety zone.
“We want to be very sure we have the 1,000-foot clearance to protect human safety,” GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said Wednesday. “We don’t want ambiguity here.”
GMP does not intend to do any work on the Brooks property but only to create a safety zone, Schnure said.
Brooks is challenging the request for an easement.
The decision to seek permission from the Vermont Public Service Board for an easement on private property near this turbine site at the southern end of the Lowell wind project is different than what happened last fall when GMP contractors sought to blast near land owned by opponents Don and Shirley Nelson of Lowell.
The blasting company did not request a blast safety easement that would have extended onto the Nelson property, giving GMP contractors the right to use a swath of Nelson land for a safety zone.
The blasting company assumed that no one would be within the safety zone on Nelson land because it was on a steep part of the Lowell mountain range.
The blasting company had never had a case like this where people intentionally stood in a blast safety zone, Schnure said, and did not anticipate needing an easement on nearby private property.
But protesters, with the permission of the Nelsons, intentionally stood in the safety zone on Nelson property in an attempt to slow or stop blasting and hinder the project. GMP is under time constraints and must have the project completed and all 21 wind turbines online by the end of the year to secure $42 million in federal production tax credits.
GMP took the case to court, securing a court order requiring police to force protesters to vacate the safety zone during blasting. The court order did not hold up to legal scrutiny when challenged. Charges of violating the order against two Sterling College students were dismissed in Orleans Superior Court – Criminal Division earlier this year.
But the order was in place long enough so GMP contractors were able to finish blasting for the ridgeline crane path near the Nelson property and at turbine sites six and seven.
GMP, state officials and Brooks met in Eden several weeks ago to discuss the process to decide if GMP can have the easement, called a condemnation.
Hearing officer John Bentley took a look at the land in question, according to PSB documents.
He has ordered a schedule for the parties to file briefs and raise questions, including the value of the swath of land in question, in advance of a technical hearing in May.
Final briefs are due by June 11.
Schnure said she expected that the hearing officer would issue a ruling on the easement request sometime in June.
That schedule would have no effect on construction expected to resume this spring on the rest of the project, Schnure said. The mild winter allowed construction to proceed longer on the mountain than expected, she said.
GMP is on schedule to have the turbines operational before the end of the year, she said.
The construction has not been affected so far by a lawsuit filed by the Nelsons, who say they own a section of the crane path and several turbine sites. GMP attorneys have disputed that, saying that the Nelsons should be suing property owner Trip Wileman of Lowell.
That case is likely to go to trial, with the possibility that it would be heard after the turbines are already online.
High Court Appeals
The Vermont Supreme Court heard arguments this week about appeals over the certificate of public good issued to GMP for the wind project. Appealing were attorneys for the towns of Albany and Craftsbury and the Lowell Mountain Group.
They challenged the Public Service Board’s authority to hear environmental appeals, among other issues.
The high court should issue a decision on the appeals sometime in the next few months.
And the criminal court in Newport City is expected to hold trials of the protesters who walked onto the crane path in December and blocked construction vehicles.
Six protesters, plus the lone reporter covering the protest, are charged with trespassing and have asked for jury trials.
The Chronicle Publisher Chris Braithwaite challenged the charge against him, but lost in criminal court. He has said he would appeal that decision as well as fight the case at trial.
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