After gathering at 5 a.m. this morning, a group of 20 or so “mountain occupiers” hiked to the ridge of Lowell Mountain to block construction of wind turbines. Their plan: Camp out in the crane path – a crucial thoroughfare for construction at Green Mountain Power’s Kingdom Community Wind project – until “the situation is resolved,” according to a press release put out by the demonstrators.
Protestors have formed a human blockade, where occupiers are singing, chanting and brandishing signs that read “Stop Destroying Vermont” and “Shumlin Lies.” An additional 25 protestors have joined the barricade since early this morning, bringing their numbers to around 45.
The protestors made the march to the ridge line by way of Don and Shirley Nelson’s adjoining property, and were on site to block construction vehicles at 7 a.m.. They’re making their stand on the same piece of land where, in December, six protestors and one reporter were arrested for trespassing. The ownership of the land is currently in dispute between the Nelsons and GMP.
Craftsbury Commons resident Steve Wright, an outspoken opponent of the wind development, is stationed near the access point on Route 100. Wright told Seven Days by phone that the drumming and chanting from the ridge line can be heard in the valley east of the project. While Wright hiked the ridge line for 25 years, his “aging legs” didn’t let him join the protest this morning.
“This is not about stopping the project,” Wright says, acknowledging that construction will inevitably continue at the 21-turbine wind development. “This is about stopping other projects that are as ill- thought-out and land abusive – projects that really don’t do anything for climate change action.”
Wright contends that the Lowell project will have no significant impact on climate change, and that in disturbing an intact mountain ecosystem, the project is doing more harm than good.
“We’re trying to communicate to Vermonters what we’re losing if we continue to blow up our ridgelines,” Wright says. He feels confident that the message from Lowell is, in fact, stirring others to action, pointing to mounting opposition to proposed wind projects like Seneca Mountain Wind in Newark, Brighton and Ferdinand, and Grandpa’s Knob Wind Park in Pittsford, Hubbardton, Castleton and West Rutland.
“It seems to us that things are turning,” Wright says.
Up on the ridge line, Irasburg resident Ron Holland says by phone that the mood is still festive. “They’re square dancing at the moment,” he says. But the protestors have heard word that four police SUVs and a cruiser are parked at the access point to the project near Route 100. All but six of the protestors plan to leave the crane path when asked.
Like Wright, Holland thinks that the protestors’ message is getting out – but he says the problem is bigger than Lowell.
“I think there is progress being made, but I think at this point this goes beyond alternative energy and wind power. Who does the state serve? Does it serve its people, or does it serve corporations?” he asks.
In a statement from GMP this morning, spokesperson Dorothy Schnure writes, “It is regrettable that a small group has once again resorted to illegal actions. Their presence on the construction site creates a safety hazard, adds cost for our customers, and strains finite law enforcement resources in the area, putting local towns and citizens at risk.” Schnure adds that the project enjoys broad statewide support and won the approval of three-quarters of Lowell voters.
Lowell select board chair Richard Pion hadn’t heard news of the protest yet when Seven Days reached him this morning, but says that the most recent protest – an action that held up traffic on Route 100 for two hours last month – was made up largely out of out-of-towners. With the first turbines now erected, Pion says he’s heard from a few residents who don’t mind the towers now that they’re up. Pion, who can see some of the first completed turbines from his home, describes the towers as “graceful,” and says he hasn’t heard any supporters of the project change their minds now that construction is under way.
“If [the protestors] want to have a peaceful protest, and they’re not interrupting anything, I don’t have a problem with it,” say Pion. But he takes issue with protestors blocking roads or construction vehicles. “As far as I’m concerned, the police should go up there and arrest them. … They’re interfering with progress.”
[photo, videos available]