Ridge Protectors Issues Statement on Sale of Nelson Farm to GMP

Ridge Protectors Issues Statement on Sale of Nelson Farm to GMP

Contact: Steve Wright

salmo@vtlink.net

802-744-22345

802-595-1045

Don and Shirley Nelson typify the Vermont dream: work hard, pay your taxes, mind your own business, save your money, retire and enjoy your grandchildren and the deer in the meadow. Now, we have to add, and be forced off your property by a foreign-owned corporation. Yes, they were paid for that property, but money runs a poor second to beauty, peace, quiet and a love for your land.

Don and Shirley are heroes. They represent the long-held Vermont values that live on in the struggle for an energy policy we know is possible, one that doesn’t drive people from their homes, damage their health, and wither hope.

The Nelsons are not the only ones forced off their land; already, at least three other families near the Lowell project have experienced a similar fate. More are expected.

And all this for no effective climate change benefit. Industrial wind technology does not work on the New England landscape and the Lowell Project, in spite of GMP’s claims, is clear proof.

Complicit in this sad tale is the Shumlin administration, aided and abetted by the so-called “environmental” community. Together, they continue to advance statewide energy policy that even the PSB acknowledges worsens Vermont’s carbon footprint.

Ridge Protectors wishes Don and Shirley the peace and quiet they deserve and thanks them for their extraordinary fortitude representing real Vermont values. The struggle moves on.

GMP to Buy Neighbors’ Property in Lowell Wind Settlement

http://www.sevendaysvt.com/OffMessage/archives/2014/04/14/gmp-to-buy-neighbors-property-in-lowell-wind-settlement#more 

GMP to Buy Neighbors’ Property in Lowell Wind Settlement

POSTED BY  ON MON, APR 14, 2014 AT 11:05 AM

click to enlargeFILE: KATHRYN FLAGG

  • FILE: KATHRYN FLAGG

After years of drawn-out lawsuits, property disputes and heartbreak, Don and Shirley Nelson are leaving Lowell Mountain.

The neighbors of the 21-turbine Kingdom Community Wind project announced a settlement with Green Mountain Power this morning. GMP will pay $1.3 million for the Nelsons’ 540-acre farm in Lowell, which has been in the Nelson family for 72 years. The Nelsons can remain in their home for up to two years and will retain 35 acres of property in Albany — but according to their statement, they intend to move to “a location well away from the turbines.” The couple claims the giant  windmills have brought them grief and ill health since they were constructed three years ago.

The Nelsons couldn’t be reached for comment this morning but said in a press release that they felt it was clear that the turbines “were not coming down and the effect on Lowell Mountain was irreversible.”

When Seven Days visited Lowell Mountain in 2012, Nelson spoke over the dull rush of a turbine turning in the distance — it sounded like a fast-moving river. At the time, Nelson was collecting signatures from neighbors attesting to the noise. “Some didn’t care much at first, but, boy, are they opposed now,” Nelson said. The retired dairy farmer blinked back tears, muttering, “Goddamn it,” as he tried to express what the turbines had done to his wife’s health and well being.

GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said in a statement that the settlement “represents an opportunity for both to move forward, and we are pleased to have reached agreement.” She also said that Kingdom Community Wind marks an important investment in renewable energy in Vermont, and that Vermonters place a high value on the energy produced at the ridgeline wind farm. Since 2012, she said, the project has generated enough electricity to power more than 24,000 homes.

“We believe that this settlement represents an opportunity for both to move forward and we are pleased to have reached agreement.”

The settlement comes after a years-long dispute about property boundaries between the Nelsons’ farm and the Kingdom Community Wind project. It made headlines in late 2011 when protestors camped out and were arrested on what the Nelsons maintained was their land. GMP’s attorney drafted a temporary restraining order that forced the Nelsons to clear their property of obstructions during the blasting phase of the project. The Nelsons in turn filed a counter suit.

The so-called “Lowell Six” protesters were found guilty of trespassing in Orleans County Criminal Court.

Annette Smith, the director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said this morning that she and her organization fully supported the Nelsons in their decision, and appreciated “how difficult it was.” Smith said she’d worked with the Nelsons for a long time to imagine alternative uses for their farm. They considered building a slaughterhouse, putting up a “wind turbine motel” for people curious (or dubious) about the effects of living near a turbine, or collaborating with nearby Sterling College on an educational enterprise. The Nelsons also did some planning around a possible small business incubator focused on farming, including beekeeping, haying and vegetable and beef production.

“It is a spectacular property — or was — for agriculture,” said Smith. “We investigated all kinds of possibilities and ultimately came to the realization that it really has no value and no use,” said Smith. “Green Mountain Power took the value of the property. Under those circumstances, this was the only possible outcome.”

Smith said the Nelsons first decided to retire and sell their property 12 years ago, but failed to find a buyer after the wind turbines were proposed for the ridge that looms above their hill farm. Once the turbines went up, Smith said, the Nelsons suffered health effects ranging from racing heartbeats to ringing in the ears and headaches.

“I’m not going to say it’s a fair settlement, because of the pain and suffering the Nelsons went through … but it’s a settlement that enables them to move on with their lives,” said Smith. “It is filled with heartbreak, but it was necessary.”

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STATEMENT OF DON AND SHIRLEY NELSON

April 14, 2014

PRESS RELEASE

Contact:  Don and Shirley Nelson (802) 755-6119
STATEMENT OF DON AND SHIRLEY NELSON
Nelsons Settle with Green Mountain Power

Don and Shirley Nelson of Lowell, Vermont have settled the lawsuit filed against them by Green Mountain Power Corporation. The litigation pertained to conflicting claims of ownership of an area of land at the top of Lowell mountain in the location of the wind turbine project. The lawsuit involved damage claims asserted by Green Mountain Power against the Nelsons and trespass and other damage claims asserted by the Nelsons against GMP.

Under the settlement, Green Mountain Power will pay the Nelsons a total of $1,300,000 to purchase the Nelsons’ Lowell, Vermont farm.

The Nelsons have released a statement noting 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 of the various claims and counterclaims filed by the Nelsons against Green Mountain Power and by Green Mountain Power against the Nelsons.

The Nelsons stated that once the turbines were built, it was clear that they were not coming down and the effect on Lowell Mountain was irreversible. 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.

As part of the settlement, Green Mountain Power agreed it would not oppose post- conviction relief sought by the citizen protestors 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.

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 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.

–END–

 

The right to possess and protect

Barton Chronicle Editorial

http://vtdigger.org/2013/12/17/braithwaite-right-possess-protect/

BRAITHWAITE: THE RIGHT TO POSSESS AND PROTECT

 DEC. 17, 2013

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Chris Braithwaite, the publisher of the Barton Chronicle, in which it was first published on Dec. 11, 2013

The Vermont Supreme Court’s four-to-one decision against the Lowell Six is only the latest in a series of rulings that, with disturbing consistency, seem stacked in favor of a big and influential Vermont corporation — and against ordinary citizens who tried to protect a mountain they love.

The high court upheld a Superior Court jury’s verdict that the six committed the crime of trespass when they put their bodies in the way of the heavy equipment that was building Green Mountain Power’s industrial wind project on Lowell Mountain.

The issue before the high court was whether, since the ownership of the property they occupied on the morning of Dec. 5, 2011, was in dispute, and they were there with the permission of one of the claimants, they could be convicted of committing the crime of trespass.

A majority of the justices said yes, for reasons that are legally complex. But in his dissent, Justice John Dooley raised a question any layman can understand: What if the civil courts ultimately decide that the land is owned by Don and Shirley Nelson, rather than the neighbor who leased it to Green Mountain Power?

If that happens, Justice Dooley wrote, “nothing would demonstrate a miscarriage of justice more. … A criminal case is an inappropriate way for the State to resolve a boundary dispute.”

Whatever consolation they may draw from Justice Dooley’s dissent, the Lowell Six face the fact that they have taken their case to the state’s highest court, and they have lost. The turbines are spinning on Lowell Mountain, however fitfully, and the people who did their best to stop them are criminals.

The criminal case was not the first time the Lowell wind project appeared before the Supreme Court.

The Lowell Six decided it would be wiser to face arrest for trespass, on the western front of the battle, and rely on the Nelson-Wileman property dispute for their defense.

On Nov. 4, 2011, the Nelsons’ lawyer, Scott McGee, filed a “complaint for extraordinary relief” with the court. Oddly, his argument makes no reference to the disputed property line — to the still distinct possibility that Green Mountain Power (GMP) has clearcut, blown up and reshaped a substantial strip of somebody else’s land.

Instead Mr. McGee focused on the 1,000-foot deep “safety zone” that Judge Martin Maley created with the stroke of a pen less than a month earlier.

To put the confrontation between the protesters and the utility in military terms, there were two distinct fronts on the mountain, separated approximately along the ridgeline by the disputed property line between the Nelsons and Trip Wileman, who was playing host to Green Mountain Power.

On the west side of the line was the project. On the east side, undisputed Nelson property, was nothing but steep, heavily forested land dotted with a few small tents and a primitive field kitchen.

The encampment had been built in the hope that, by putting their bodies as close as legally possible to enormous blasting job that faced Green Mountain Power, protesters could bring construction to a halt.

As a criminal matter, the tactic got a clean bill of health from no less an authority than Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell. If people are there with the landowner’s permission, he said when asked by a reporter, “there’s no criminal violation that readily comes to mind.”

But as a civil matter, GMP’s very able attorney, Jeffrey Behm, didn’t see it that way. He quickly drafted a temporary restraining order that would clear the Nelson property of protesters while blasting was in progress.

He got it signed by Judge Maley under circumstances that could fairly be described as dubious.

Mr. Behm sought, and was granted, an emergency ex parte hearing before Judge Maley in St. Albans. The Latin jargon means that the other side of the dispute wasn’t present, wasn’t represented by a lawyer, indeed received no notice that the hearing was taking place.

It’s a procedure that is used, for example, when a woman is in urgent need of a court order protecting her from an abusive partner.

Mr. McGee, the Nelsons’ lawyer, raised the point in a footnote to the argument he filed with the Supreme Court:

“If no notice is given, the Rule requires that court make express findings in the order as to why the order was granted without notice. No such findings were made, and there was no justification for not notifying the Nelsons other than the improper justification of ensuring that the Nelsons would be unable to debunk GMP’s claim before the court acted on the application.”

The facts seem to bear Mr. McGee out. The “emergency,” Mr. Behm argued that Friday, was that people at the campsite would be in danger by the next Monday, Oct. 17.

I climbed the mountain the next Tuesday, Oct. 18, to find a group of protesters standing well within the forbidden “safety zone” in defiance of the judge’s order. Nobody bothered them, not the police, not anyone from Green Mountain Power. A logging crew on the other side of the property line took a break when a siren sounded its warning of a blast, but didn’t leave the area. When it happened the blast was an anticlimax, a dull report from somewhere out of sight to the south and west.

It wasn’t until Wednesday, Oct. 19, that GMP sent two of its people up to ask the protesters to leave. They didn’t, and the GMP representatives stood nearby while the blast went off at a closer, but still harmless, distance.

There was, in fact, plenty of time for Judge Maley to convene a full hearing and hear argument from both sides before making up his mind.

But the position he took on Oct. 14 became a foundation from which Judge Maley never budged as events unfolded. Here is Mr. Behm’s formulation:

“The false premise of the defendants’ scheme to destroy the project is their assumption they can do whatever they please, no matter how injurious to others, so long as they do it entirely on their own land. That misguided belief is wholly incorrect.”

But that, as Mr. McGee argued strenuously, is a matter of opinion.

As they unfolded, events got pretty interesting. By Oct. 27 blasters had come so close to the encampment that one of them warned the protesters to protect their heads and take cover behind trees. Then he let off a blast that sent clouds of dust, a few small chunks of rock, and a big rubber piece of a protective blast mat onto the Nelson property where the protesters stood.

Mr. McGee went quickly to Judge Maley’s court, seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the blasting. The errant flyrock not only constituted a trespass, he wrote, but also violated the terms of GMP’s blasting permit.

Judge Maley did not agree.

Turning to the Supreme Court, Mr. McGee urged the justices to step into a case that remained unresolved in Superior Court. If it did not, he argued, the Nelsons would soon lose their constitutional rights to occupy their own land and protest against the project.

“The superior court’s preliminary injunction effectively grants GMP a license to use the Nelsons’ property which GMP otherwise would have no right to use. This is a misuse of court power that tramples the rights of Vermont landowners to accommodate a large corporation.”

Mr. McGee cited three specific rights, under the Vermont Constitution, that the order violated:

Article I names as a “natural and inalienable right” the right of “possessing and protecting property.”

Articles 13 and 20, he argued, protect the Nelsons’ right “to assemble with others to protest GMP’s activities” and the government’s decision, through the Public Service Board, to approve the project.

Finally, Mr. McGee noted, Judge Maley’s order even denies the Nelsons their constitutional right “to hunt and fowl on the lands they hold.”

The Supreme Court declined to consider Mr. McGee’s complaint on the grounds that it wasn’t timely.

The protesters, as a tactical matter, agreed not to get themselves arrested for defying the judge, and face contempt charges. When police finally appeared on the mountain and ordered protesters to leave the safety zone, they left. (In the event, two Sterling College students who weren’t given that opportunity had the contempt charges against them dismissed by Judge Robert Gerety Jr.)

The Lowell Six decided it would be wiser to face arrest for trespass, on the western front of the battle, and rely on the Nelson-Wileman property dispute for their defense.

In hindsight, it’s hard not to speculate how, if a contempt conviction had been appealed to their court, the justices would have dealt with the constitutional issues raised by Mr. McGee.

And it’s impossible not to regret that the high court didn’t take up Mr. McGee’s complaint in the fall of 2011, when it might have preserved, not only the rights of the protesters, but Lowell Mountain itself.

Editor’s note: The author was arrested with the Lowell Six when he refused to leave the construction site before he witnessed their arrest, as a reporter. The trespass charge against him was dismissed by the court, with prejudice, in December 2012.

Statement of the Lowell 6 — Undeterred by Court’s Flawed Ruling

 

Standing On Nelson's Disputed Property

Standing On Nelson’s Disputed Property

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.