NEWPORT CITY – The six Lowell mountain wind development protesters – convicted of trespassing by a jury in August – were each sentenced to either a $250 fine or 25 hours of community service.
But at their sentencing hearing Tuesday afternoon in Orleans Superior Court-Criminal Division, Judge Martin Maley granted the defense’s motion to stay the sentences pending adjudication of their appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court.
Maley denied a motion to overturn the jury’s conviction in mid-October.
Kristina Michelsen represented defendants David Rodgers, 69, of Craftsbury, a mason and writer; Ryan Gillard, 23, of Plainfield, a mentor at EarthWalk Vermont; Suzanna Jones, 50, of East Hardwick, a farmer; Anne Morse, 48, of Craftsbury Common, a member of the Sterling College faculty; Robert Holland, 67, of Irasburg, a doctor at North Country Hospital; and Eric Wallace-Senft, 46, of Woodbury, who is self-employed in maple sugaring and home maintenance.
Michelsen asked Maley to continue the sentencing until the justices ruled on the appeal, but after Deputy State’s Attorney Sarah Baker opposed it – saying it was just a waste of the court’s time – he went ahead with the hearing.
Baker said the defendants, none of whom have previous criminal records, could either be fined $250 or sentenced to serve two to three days on a work crew.
She noted that the victim, industrial wind project developer Green Mountain Power, had suffered monetary losses and that the police spent considerable time dealing with the protests.
Baker did not address the issue of restitution.
Michelsen said that rather than spending time on a work crew, which would place “non-criminals” unnecessarily in the custody of the Department of Corrections, she’d like for her clients to be able to work off their fines doing community service – outside the purview of the Department of Corrections.
Maley said the court was persuaded that due to the lack of criminal records and nature of the crimes – acts of civil disobedience – that Michelsen’s approach was appropriate.
Baker figured that at $10 per hour, the fine would translate into 25 hours of community service, and Maley said it would be served helping charities.
The protesters were arrested Dec. 5, 2011, while blocking a crane path at the wind project site. Also arrested that day was Chronicle publisher Chris Braithwaite, 68, of West Glover, whose trespass charge was recently dismissed by the state.
Their Supreme Court appeal is based on the premise that ownership of the property is in dispute in civil court, which creates reasonable doubt as to whether they were allowed to be where they were Dec. 5, 2011.
Don and Shirley Nelson, who’ve continually shown their support to protesters, have sued abutting landowner Trip Wileman and Green Mountain Power, which leases land from Wileman, saying they own the strip of land where protesters were that day.
Outside the courthouse, protesters lined up next to a sign that read, “Detour to honest energy policy” and read statements following their sentencing.
Holland read from a prepared statement, “We continue to be saddened by the fact that a discussion about our state’s energy policy has resulted in conflict and litigation.”
“The statement we made that day on the mountain, and the one we continue to make, is that the Lowell project represents a bad choice, and a false choice, for our state,” Holland read.
“We must take dramatic and effective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – but this project fails to do that. We should be taking control of our energy economy on a community level – but this project fails that test as well. We should be seeking to reduce our impacts and find solutions that will make our communities and our natural environment stronger – but this project does not do that,” Holland continued.
“And so, we made a stand, calling for an honest energy policy for Vermont. Some of us will appeal the conviction to the Vermont Supreme Court [while] others will serve the sentences we received today,” Holland said.
Holland said that as long as the state pursues policies that fail to address climate change while facilitating destruction of ridgelines, they will continue to fight.
He said that may be through protests, education, courts, or the media, and Gillard added through the Legislature.
Morse said corporations have a disproportionate amount of power, which creates an injustice. She said it is wrong for the state to allow a corporation to blow up a mountain before ownership of the land is decided.
Industrial wind development is not green energy, Morse said. “It’s a greenwashing.”
Green Mountain Power produces energy through wind, which allows it to sell renewable energy credits to out-of-state companies, which in turn produce power by burning fossil fuels. The net effect is no decrease in the use of fossil fuels.
It’s nothing more than deception, Holland said. And Morse said all Vermonters have an obligation to stand up to deception and say, “The emperor has no clothes.”
A quick glance at the “family tree” of energy corporations shows the deception, Gillard said. Gaz Metro and Enbridge are part owners of Green Mountain Power, Gillard said, and Enbridge is trying to expand a pipeline through the Northeast Kingdom to transport tar sands for refining.
When asked if it was worth it to protesters, Holland said, “Today we have a siting panel for wind energy. We didn’t have that a year ago.”
The public is far more aware of the issue because of the actions of protesters, he said.
Six additional protesters, arrested in Aug., have a pending motion to dismiss based on the same premise as the appeal in this case. Michelsen represents them as well.
Read more about the state’s proposed renewable energy requirements in a future issue of the Orleans County Record.