HOLLAND – Disputes over public access versus property rights during a June 12 tour of the Dairy Air Wind site prompted both developer and opponents to call for clarity from the Vermont Public Utilities Commission.
Dairy Air Wind developer David Blittersdorf and Dairy Air Farm owners have a right to protect their property from surveillance and vandalism and to limit access, recordings and photographs on private land during site visits, according to Dairy Air attorney Leslie Cadwell.
Public participants in the site visit and the town of Holland disagreed and want another site visit. Vermonters for a Clean Environment says the developer went as far as threatening people during the site visit.
No one was happy about how the site visit proceeded. The developer wanted limits, the public complained, and the hearing officer allowed public participation but the developer’s staff tried to limit recordings during the visit.
Both developer and opponents want the commission to issue clear rules in the future.
Cadwell, in a letter Friday to the commission, referred to an incident in 2015 when a trespasser left a severed deer head on Blittersdorf’s Kidder Hill property in Irasburg, where he wants to raise two industrial grade turbines.
That incident was reported to the police.
“It became apparent that some additional protections would be warranted to ensure the personal safety and privacy of the project sponsor, the landowners, and the team of experts working on this and other renewable energy projects in Vermont,” Cadwell wrote.
“The minimally burdensome conditions requested to enter the property in (the Dairy Air Wind) case – namely that each individual identify themselves, that they refrain from photography and recording without express permission of the landowner, and that they stay together and walk within the area designated by the landowner – were reasonable measures to protect the privacy of the project team, host landowner, and site visit attendees, to preserve the landowner’s livelihood, which is derived from farming the land, and to ensure the safety of all those in attendance at the site visit,” Cadwell concluded. She reminded the commission that a site visit is not a public meeting, is not subject to the open meeting law and that the public does not have an unqualified right to go on private property.
“It is not unreasonable for the host landowner and the project proponent to ask for the identity of the individuals that want to enter the property. It is also not unreasonable to ask that attendees agree to certain conditions of conduct during the visit so that, in this case, a crowd of approximately 40 people can be safely escorted on, around, and off the property.
“This includes restricting activities, such as videotaping, that distract from the purpose of the site visit, which is to view the site and surrounding features in their existing condition.” Cadwell pointed to tight restrictions on some commission site visits, where only commissioners, parties and commission staff are allowed on site of power generation plants.
People at the site visit in Holland complained that the landowner wasn’t present to approve of anyone who wanted to go on the property, effectively preventing the public from participating.
Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said in a July 13 letter to the commission that Dairy Air Wind representatives threatened legal action against anyone who violates limits during the site visit.
“We request that the PUC set clear standards for what is and is not allowed at the site visit, and establish ground rules that eliminate the intimidation that attendees of the first site visit were subjected to by representatives of the applicant,” Smith wrote.
VCE’s representative John Brabant attended the site visit “and felt intimidated by the threat of legal action against anyone who took photographs or video during the site visit,” Smith wrote. “VCE’s representative’s video recording was actively interfered with and stopped by Dairy Air Wind LLC’s attorney,” Smith stated.
Brabant complained that a Dairy Air official photographed his car and license plate, according to Smith. Smith said that when Brabant protested, Cadwell commented “We want to be able to identify your car in the event of future vandalism.”
“Members of the public who have an interest in Dairy Air Wind LLC’s plans should not be subjected to threats of legal action for taking photos or videos at a public PUC site visit, nor should they be subjected to having their personal information gathered when they attend a public PUC site visit,” Smith wrote.
“The threats and intimidation experienced by VCE at the first PUC site visit had a chilling effect on our interest in intervening in this case.”
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