Following is a statement from the six defendants in a Lowell Mountain trespassing case recently decided by the Vermont Supreme Court. They are Ron Holland of Irasburg, Anne Morse of Craftsbury, Suzanna Jones of Walden, Ryan Gillard of Plainfield, David Rodgers of East Craftsbury and Eric Wallace-Senft of West Woodbury:
For several hours on Dec. 5, 2011, six Vermonters blocked construction of Green Mountain Power’s 21-turbine wind project on the Lowell Mountains. With our banners and signs, we stood on land that we believed – and solid evidence shows – belongs to Don and Shirley Nelson.
Nonetheless, we were arrested and charged with trespassing on Green Mountain Power property. We were eventually found guilty by a jury that followed the instructions of the trial judge who, in effect, told the jurors that it didn’t matter who actually owned the land where we stood.
Nearly two years later, ownership of that strip of land is still in dispute and will remain so until the matter is resolved in a civil trial. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court of Vermont has now denied our appeal in the above case. We acknowledge the Supreme Court’s decision, and we believe it is profoundly flawed. In his dissent, Justice John Dooley provided a commonsense analysis of the issues involved:
“There is a disconnect in this case between the trial court’s charge to the jury and the defense allowed by the court and presented by the defendants. The parties at trial submitted conflicting evidence on whether defendants were arrested on land owned by the Nelsons – neighboring landowners who allegedly permitted defendants to be there – or by those who leased the property to Green Mountain Power (GMP). …
“Nevertheless, despite defendants’ specific request to do so, the trial court refused to address the question of ownership as part of the jury’s consideration of whether GMP had ‘lawful possession’ – an essential element of the criminal trespass charge – of the land upon which they were arrested. … The court’s failure to address ownership in its jury instructions undoubtedly confused the jury after it had just heard evidence focusing almost exclusively on who owned the land in question and whether defendants had permission to be on that land. The questions posed by the jury during its deliberations highlighted its confusion, but the court nonetheless refused to clarify or elaborate on its initial truncated instruction regarding the element of lawful possession.”
We wish to make it clear that the court’s decision will not sway us from our fundamental commitment: to help Vermont develop a cogent, effective energy policy that protects its landscape and citizens from corporate or governmental bullying.
We will focus our efforts on towns, communities and individuals whose peace, health, harmony, and ecosystems are currently threatened by industrial wind development.
Currently, that means Brighton, Ferdinand, Newark and nearby towns in the Northeast Kingdom, targets of Eolian/Seneca Wind. It also means Grafton and Windham in Windham County. It means Grandpa’s Knob in Rutland County, and the towns of Castleton, Hubbardton, Pittsford and West Rutland. And it means Georgia Mountain where neighbors are struggling with that new facility.
We will continue to be responsible advocates for effective climate change strategies. “Effective” means an approach that reduces the state’s carbon emissions, is affordable, assures a reliable supply of power, and protects residents and the Vermont landscape from the negative effects of energy development.
We will continue to question and oppose corporate-friendly policies that pretend to be “green” but in fact do nothing to advance effective responses to climate change.
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