LOWELL – Green Mountain Power will buy Don and Shirley Nelson’s Lowell farm for $1.3 million as part of an out-of-court settlement of dueling lawsuits over property, damages and trespassing.
GMP and the Nelsons announced the settlement early Monday morning in separate statements. The deal ends a court battle that has been percolating in Orleans Superior Court in Newport City since GMP began blasting rock for the mountaintop wind project three years ago.
The settlement allows Don and Shirley Nelson to live on the 540-acre farm near Albany for two years. They also retain ownership of 35 acres of property in Albany.
They plan to move away from proximity to the turbines.
The Nelsons accused GMP of damaging their mountainside property and trespassing. They challenged GMP over ownership of some of the land where the 21 turbines stand. They also sued mountain property owner Trip Wileman of Lowell, who has leased the property to GMP for the 21 industrial-sized wind turbines.
The lawsuit against Wileman was dropped as well in the settlement, Wileman said.
GMP fought back with counterclaims, also asserting damages. A judge issued a temporary restraining order allowing GMP to continue blasting and telling the Nelsons to stop encouraging protesters from going from their property to the wind site. But that order in 2011 did not resolve the larger claims of ownership of part of the wind site.
During the protests and the beginning of the court battle, GMP had offered to buy the farm for $1 million, the listing price. The Nelsons rejected the offer, demanding $2 million instead.
The utility also tried to broker a deal involving Vermont Land Trust and farmers who wanted to buy the property, but that fell through when the Nelsons realized that GMP was participating with funding behind the scenes.
The Nelsons, with the personal and financial support of those who opposed the wind project, battled the wind project planners in hearings before the state utility regulators on the Public Service Board and in the court of public opinion as well as in civil court.
In their statement they said they thought they would prevail in court but that would not stop the turbines from operating.
They thanked all their supporters.
Shirley Nelson in particular has participated in hearings over a handful of noise violations early in the operation of the turbines. She has testified that her health has been affected by the turbines.
GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure stated that the purchase of the property is part of the mutual agreement which meets the needs of the Nelsons and the customers of the state’s largest utility.
“We are pleased to announce that GMP has reached agreement with Don and Shirley Nelson to settle all pending claims,” Schnure said in GMP’s short statement on the settlement.
Before the turbines were erected, GMP bought out another neighbor who lived on the southwest side of the mountain range.
In their statement, the Nelsons said that “if they had fought the court battle to the end and prevailed – as they were confident they would have – they would not have been able to reverse the effects on Lowell Mountain or cause the towers to be removed from the mountain top.
“They would have received, at best, money damages comparable to what they achieved through settlement but only after a major courtroom battle with the possibility of appeals and with no certainty as to the outcome …,” according to the Nelsons’ statement.
“Once the turbines were built, it was clear that they were not coming down and the effect on Lowell Mountain was irreversible,” the Nelsons stated.
“They made the decision that they would not remain in their Lowell Mountain hill farm in the shadow of the turbines. The Nelsons intend to move from their farm to a location well away from the turbines.”
The Nelsons stated that GMP has agreed it will not oppose “post- conviction relief sought by the citizen protesters who were convicted of trespass for standing on land that the Nelsons claim is theirs. Green Mountain Power acknowledged that the legal status and title to the land was in dispute.”
Several groups of protesters have been found guilty of trespassing on the wind project site on land that was in dispute in the court case.
“The Nelsons have been fierce opponents of the Green Mountain Power wind turbine project because of its impact on Lowell Mountain, a mountain that Don Nelson grew up with and that both Nelsons dearly love,” the Nelsons stated. The Nelson farm has been in the Nelson family for more than 72 years.
“The Nelsons expressed their gratitude to their many friends and neighbors who have battled with them to oppose the construction of wind turbines on Lowell Mountain.”
Schnure referred to GMP’s statement when asked questions about the settlement and whether GMP has bought out anyone else near the wind project.
GMP revealed little of the agreement in its statement, except the purchase of the Nelson property.
“The agreement meets the needs of the Nelsons as well as those of our customers,” Schnure stated.
“Kingdom Community Wind is an important part of our growing investment in renewable energy in Vermont. It is an ongoing priority for us to deliver clean, cost-effective, renewable energy to customers including wind, solar, and hydro-electricity.
“Vermonters place a high value on the competitively-priced, low carbon energy developed at the site. Kingdom Community Wind is a critical part of that effort to ensure a clean-energy future in Vermont, and since 2012, the project has generated enough electricity to power more than 24,000 homes,” Schnure stated.
“We believe that this settlement represents an opportunity for both to move forward and we are pleased to have reached agreement,” she concluded.
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