WELLS – The event hosted at Olga Julinska’s mountaintop home Saturday was more than just a protest of Vermont’s permitting system and corporate self-interest, it was a goodbye to a place she and her family have loved.
“Thanks for being with us to say goodbye,” Julinska said, choking back tears while addressing a crowd of about 50 people inside her home. “For us, this is a chance to say goodbye. It’s a very emotional time for us.”
Julinksa and her partner, Felix Kniazev, still own the home at the summit of Northeast Mountain where they live with their children. They did not say where they are moving to, or when. But they said their home would be unsafe to live in after Vermont Electric Power Co. (VELCO) replaces a radio tower next to their home with a bigger tower that would transmit a broader range of signals.
“We would be irradiated with levels of radiation that we don’t even know what they would be, and there’s no limit in the documentation to how many antennae they could attach,” she said.
The documentation she referred to was a 53-page decision filed last month by the state Public Service Board.
Julinska and Kniazev brought their concerns about the power utility’s project before the board earlier this year. But after hearing testimony from both sides, the couple maintain that the PSB sided completely with VELCO while ignoring their concerns.
The three-member board did find that the couple was entitled to $25,750 for the changes, which include expanding the easements for utility lines. VELCO officials have said the home will still be inhabitable and that the project is needed to improve the utility’s statewide radio network used by workers for maintenance and emergency repairs of transmission lines.
But Julinska said she believes the lack of limits on additional antennae opens the door for the company to sell space on the tower to cellular service providers – making the company money while harming her family, she said.
She said the family’s concerns about safety and intrusions on their privacy – the utility was granted 24-hour, seven-days-a-week access to the tower which will sit right next to their house – were deemed by the PSB to be insufficient to block the project. The family’s appeal of the board’s decision is pending in Rutland civil court.
“To us, it’s clear that they’re driving us out,” she said. “That’s not the way the PSB sees it. In their opinion, if we leave, it’s our choice.”
At the protest Saturday, Julinska and Kniazev gathered others from far and wide who shared similar concerns, including a number of Vermont legislators and a state representative from Maine who arrived at the protest in a helicopter.
Many, like Derek Saari, of Rindge, N.H., said they had their own stories about problems with utility companies.
Saari, who owns 60 acres of ridgeline situated in the middle of a proposed wind farm on Grandpa’s Knob in Pittsford, terminated an easement with Reunion Power earlier this year. He said he had discovered unethical practices by the company while dealing with property owners whose land sits on the project site.
Saari, who works as a town planner in Massachusetts, came to the protest carrying a 175-page document that he said outlined a dozen instances of fraud involving deceptive easement agreements by Reunion Power and three of its subsidiaries.
He said he had submitted a copy of the document to the Vermont Attorney General’s Office.
“There needs to be more transparency in the process,” he said, when asked what he thought needed to change.
Julinska put the same question to the entire group at the start of the event.
Noting that many in the crowd could tell “horror” stories about their experiences with permitting processes involving issues ranging from cellular towers to wind farms to smart meters, she said the success of the protest Saturday would be measured by the solutions participants came up with, not the problems.
“A real tribute to our fight would be to come up with a way to move forward because that’s what democracy is all about,” she said.
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