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Protesters block Route 100 in opposition to Lowell wind project

LOWELL – A stand-off between police from seven law enforcement agencies and more than 100 industrial wind protesters ended peaceably when police and organizers came to a compromise Monday afternoon.

The protesters, including members of the Mountain Occupiers and Newark Neighbors United, blocked both lanes of Route 100 for about two hours, preventing a truck hauling a wind tower section from entering the staging site.

They chanted “When our mountains are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” in their opposition to the 21-turbine project being constructed on the Lowell Mountain range by Green Mountain Power.

The protesters stayed on the far side of the road for much of the morning, singing in solidarity and holding placards with messages like “Greed Isn’t Green” and “Big $-wind-le” written on them. Skeletal figures with extended arms turned like wind turbine blades, and organizer Ira Powsner led the chants of “Mountains – yes! Profits – no!” to the beat of Bread and Puppet drummers.

Their message came through organizer Steve Wright of Craftsbury. The project, which is being sold as “green” energy, does nothing to alleviate dependence on foreign oil, he said. “It is the blackest of black energy.”

It will devastate wildlife habitat, and it is not a stable source of power, Wright said.

As the truck hauling a piece of a wind tower approached, protesters started moving into the roadway, blocking the truck’s path.
Before the bulk of the group could get to the front of the truck, Lamoille County Sheriff’s deputy Claude Marcoux had already arrested and handcuffed Ira Powsner and his brother Jacob Powsner of Ira for disorderly conduct by obstruction.

At that point protesters, who formerly had been willing to stand on the sidelines, moved into the roadway – blocking both lanes.

The movement intensified, with people yelling, “Shame on you!” and “Turn it back!” to the pounding of drums.

Essex County Sheriff Trevor Colby arrived and parted the wave of people with his cruiser, but the crowd swallowed up his car just as quickly as he passed by.

Corporal Dan Kerin of the Williston barracks was next on the scene, and quickly began moving the protesters to the sidelines.

Kerin yelled and pushed some people backward, which at first was effective and then elicited stronger opposition, with people moving back into the spaces Kerin had cleared, dancing and waving flags depicting scenes of destruction.

About 40 law enforcement officers from five state police barracks, three sheriff departments, U.S. Border Patrol, Fish and Wildlife, and the Department of Motor Vehicles arrived in the moments soon afterward, largely staying on the sidelines until a plan was formulated.

Lieutenant Kirk Cooper, commander of the Derby barracks, quickly entered the crowd of protesters upon his arrival, quelling the shouting and asking people to consider their options.

Cooper told the protesters that he understood why they were there and said they have every right to stand up for what they believe in, but not the right to block traffic.

“I’m not going to fill you full of crap,” Cooper said. He said the protesters had two options: stand on the side of the road or be removed from the road.

“We’re going to be forced to have to remove you. I honestly don’t want to do that,” Cooper said.

One of the protesters said she thought the group would be fine with allowing all other traffic to pass – except that one truck.

The situation had come to an impasse, and worried looks started sprouting on people’s faces.

Officers, including one holding the leash of a large German shepherd, were all in possession of plastic hand restraints and appeared prepared to quell the uprising.

That’s when Don Nelson’s voice hushed all other sound. “We’ve made our point,” Nelson, who is in a civil court dispute with GMP over land rights in the project, said.

Some protesters were nodding in agreement, while others were shaking their heads and saying things that indicated they were not willing to back down.

Lamoille County Sheriff Roger Marcoux and Cooper spoke with Nelson and organizers Pat O’Neill of Westfield and Wright, in a tight-knit huddle.

Nelson, Wright and O’Neill asked the officers to give them a chance to convince the crowd to move to the side, but only if the Powsner brothers were released.

The trio spoke with Will Young, who turned and commended the protesters for making their point.

“We have done our job here!” Young said. “We have shown that this is a corrupt, evil system that destroys our ridgelines.”

The industrial wind opposition has to use its resources wisely, Young said, and putting fine money in the hands of the state is not putting money to good use, he said.

O’Neill said the Powsner brothers would still be cited for disorderly conduct but would not be taken into custody after Sheriff Marcoux said he had no authority to un-arrest people and that the state’s attorney’s office would decide whether or not charges would be brought in court.

With the protesters largely in agreement, and slowly moving back from the truck, O’Neill shouted, “But this truck doesn’t move until Ira joins us!”

Wright held the fort in front of the truck, waving a large Vermont flag, until police released the Powsner brothers.

Shouting, “Governor Shumlin, do you hear us now?” the crowd slowly moved aside and allowed the truck to move into the driveway of the wind project.

GMP spokesperson Dorothy Schnure said, after all was calm, “It’s unfortunate that the people who oppose the project blocked traffic… It’s unfortunate for locals to be held up for two hours.”

But she said despite the delay Monday, construction was still on target for completion by the end of the year.

Schnure said that 75 percent of Lowell voters approve of the project that she says will provide power to 24,000 homes and that the Public Service Board found to be good.

The protesters regrouped and Wright delivered closing comments.

“We’re on a track now to stop that kind of crap,” he said. The next step is creating a statewide organization to address industrial wind.

He reminded the crowd that the Public Service Board will hold a public meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Newark Street School regarding the proposed 30-turbine project there.

“We all have an interest in this,” Wright said. “This was a big win.”