NEWPORT, Vt. – Opponents to the Lowell wind project let the Orleans County courthouse know they had arrived, playing drums and symbols.
Ryan Gillard, Robert Holland, Suzanna Jones, Anne Morse, David Rodgers and Eric Wallace Senft, who call themselves the “Lowell Six,” were on trial for allegedly trespassing onto Green Mountain Power’s land back in December.
“We thought for sure we were on the Nelson’s land. We had a string measure the distance. We had talked to a surveyor who’s going to testify,” Ryan Gillard said.
Gillard says he’s unsure how the state can try them for trespass when the civil court has not settled a lawsuit about who the land in question belongs to.
“The evidence will show that the defendants were aware that they didn’t have permission from Green Mountain Power Corporation to be on the land,” said Sarah Baker, the deputy Orleans County state’s attorney.
“The state will be utterly unable to prove that Green Mountain Power have the lawful authority to exclude my clients from the piece of property on which they were arrested,” said Kristina Michelsen, the lawyer for the protesters.
The state claims the land protesters refused to leave, despite multiple warnings from police, belongs to Lowell resident Trip Wileman, who leased it to the utility. GMP officials say the agreement gives them the right to develop the wind farm and post the property.
“This is not the actual sign that was hung, but this is the same sign that we hung up everywhere around the property line,” said Charles Pughe of Green Mountain Power.
But the defense says the disputed land belongs to Don Nelson. In a separate case, he’s suing Wileman and GMP over where the property line is located. But neither side was allowed to mention that lawsuit to the jury. And Nelson says in the meantime he isn’t stopping anyone from accessing the land.
“My land is open,” Nelson said. “So people come and go and I don’t invite them or not invite them. It’s open land.”
“I was surprised it went this far and that they are expending the amount of resources when they know there’s a legitimate dispute in civil court,” Gillard said.
The state had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the Lowell Six were trespassing on land under GMP’s control. And the jury was convinced by the state’s evidence. They returned guilty verdicts for all six protesters.
Meanwhile, protesters want to know what the holdup is on the other lawsuit. They say “justice delayed equals justice denied.” They want the project halted until the lawsuit over the disputed land is addressed. The same judge presiding over the criminal case is also assigned the Nelson’s civil suit, but he’s not scheduled to hear the case until September of next year.
GMP says all of its 21 turbines will be up and running before the end of this year.