NEWPORT CITY – A judge says he will decide soon if a property ownership dispute over the Lowell wind project site can come up at the trial of six wind protesters – or if trespassing charges against them should be dismissed.
Six protesters pleaded not guilty to criminal trespassing after they blockaded the crane path at the wind project on Dec. 5 on property that is being claimed in civil court by wind project neighbors Don and Shirley Nelson.
The Nelsons are suing Green Mountain Power and property owner Trip Wileman over the property in a case that is not expected to go to trial until next year at the earliest. The wind turbines are due to arrive at the wind project site this summer and go online by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, the civil dispute is a central feature of the defense of the six protesters. The protesters include North Country Hospital’s Dr. Ron Holland and a professor at Sterling College.
Defense attorney Kristina
Instead, GMP called for state police and deputy sheriffs to remove protesters, plus a reporter who is being tried separately.
The state police shouldn’t be “the handmaiden” of GMP,
The judge questioned why any landowner would not have the right to ask police to remove someone who is trespassing. Police, he said, take the word of the property owner that they have the right to have someone removed.The fact that there is a dispute “triggers” the complication that means GMP didn’t have the right, she said.
“In this case, everybody knew there was a (property) dispute,”
Deputy State’s Attorney Sarah Baker said she is prepared to prove that GMP has rights to the property through a lease with Wileman and a survey that shows where the property line is. That survey is in dispute in the civil case.
She also pointed to an order in the civil case that denied the Nelsons a temporary restraining order to stop GMP from working on the disputed property.
But the order does not say that GMP has the right to the property,
Gerety said that Baker was interpreting what she thought the order implied when she said that GMP was in lawful possession of the property.
“That’s it, really. That’s the heart of the matter,” Gerety said.
Baker said that GMP officials believe that they have rights to use the property and conduct their business that do not change just because they are in civil court.
Gerety said he wanted to read the order and the various motions again and promised to resolve these questions soon in a written ruling.
The six trespassing cases, if they are not dismissed, will go to pretrial hearings on July 18 with jury selection on July 19. The trial is set for Aug. 15.
The criminal trespass charge against The Chronicle Publisher Chris Braithwaite, who covered the Dec. 5 protest and was arrested when he would not leave the property when requested by police, is following a different court schedule and involves different legal arguments over freedom of the press.
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