DECEMBER 20, 2011 PRESS RELEASE
For immediate release
Lowell Protestors Arraigned, Plead “Not Guilty”
Six Witnessed “Enormous Destruction” at Wind Site
Newport, VT – The six Mountain Occupation activists arrested two weeks ago at Green Mountain Power’s Lowell wind project site were arraigned at Newport Superior Court earlier today. Each of the six pled “Not Guilty” to charges of trespassing on land leased by Green Mountain Power. The legal ownership of the land is disputed and adds an interesting complication to the case. Each was released after agreeing to a singular condition: that they return for a hearing when scheduled.
Prior to entering the courthouse a group of supporters—buffeted by a brisk wind off Lake Memphremagog—convened on the sidewalk holding the Vermont and U.S. flags along with signs saying “Stop Destroying Vermont,” and “Detour to Honest Energy Policy.” The same signs and flags were carried by the protestors when they were arrested on the ridgeline on December 5.
Following the hearing before Judge Gerety the Mountain Occupation group held a press conference with about 50 in attendance. Each defendant spoke briefly as to why they had been at the site and what they witnessed there.
“The ridge has been blasted into a crane path while the legal dispute sits unresolved,” said Anne Morse, 48 year old Sterling College instructor from Craftsbury Common. “I live off the grid and support the transition to renewable energy sources, but after seeing the destruction on the ridge, it’s clear to me that this is not about renewable energy but instead is about corporate profit.”
Ryan Gillard, a 23 year old ecologist and educator from Plainfield, Vermont said he, “Blocked the crane path to bring attention to the massive destruction the project is bringing to the area’s ecology.” He also added that, “The permitting process must be broken if the PSB would approve such a destructive project; these impacts cannot be mitigated.”
Robert Holland, a physician practicing at North Country Hospital and a member of the local school board discussed how the PSB failed to take into account the environmental costs when assessing the appropriateness of the project. “Although the Board is required to include the environmental costs of any project in its analysis, in this case the value of preserving an intact ecologically sensitive montane forest and mountain system was determined to be worthless. This is a tragedy for our state and the future of our environment.”
And Eric Wallace-Senft, 48, of West Woodbury, when asked why he has been protesting GMP’s wind development of the Lowell Mountains said, ” “I’m on the ridgeline for my daughters and their future in Vermont. Elected officials and the PSB have been bought out by Gaz Metro-GMP. It’s time to stand up as Vermonters and defend our way of life from corporate interests.”
“David Rodgers, a stonemason and writer from East Craftsbury, when asked the same question said: “Four miles of blasted ridgeline in the Lowell Mountains is not an example of forward thinking energy policy. It’s an environmental tragedy and an economic disaster. Our mountains are a reflection of our values.”
Suzanna Jones, 50 who lives with her husband and family off the grid–in Walden–said, “This is not renewable energy development. This mountain will never recover from the hideous crime committed in the name of renewable energy. Vermonters should come take a look at this crime and decide for themselves if this is what they want for another 200 miles of ridgeline. I certainly do not.”
At the conclusion of the press conference the six arrested Occupiers led those in attendance in singing the Vermont state song, “These Green Mountains.” As they have done in the past, the group raised their voices for the line, “These Green Mountains are my home.”
Steve Wright, 802-595-1045 (c), 802-586-7705 (h) firstname.lastname@example.org
Ron Holland, 802-754-6354, (H) email@example.com
It is a fairly rare event in the world — let alone in Vermont — when a reporter is arrested on the job. That makes the case of Chris Braithwaite an interesting one to watch.
Braithwaite, publisher of the Barton Chronicle, was arrested Dec. 5 and cited with trespassing on the construction site of Green Mountain Power Corp.’s Lowell wind project. He is due in court in Newport on Tuesday, when he plans to plead not guilty.
Braithwaite was there as six protesters were seeking to halt Green Mountain Power’s earth-moving machines atop the mountain. When Orleans County Sheriff’s deputies told Braithwaite to leave, he refused, saying he was there to observe the arrest of the protesters.
Was Braithwaite a nuisance who was defying police orders or a journalist serving as the public’s eyes and ears to record an event that was public yet fairly inaccessible?
Braithwaite said his lawyer, Phil White, will argue the latter, seeking to have the charges dropped by making a First Amendment freedom-of-the-press argument.
Braithwaite said he’s been a journalist in the Northeast Kingdom for 37 years. Covering the Lowell wind project, with its mountaintop protests, poses unusual challenges, he said.
“What do you do when you’ve got this kind of protest going on and it’s not in front of City Hall? It’s on top of this mountain,” Braithwaite said Monday. “I just didn’t know any other way to cover it.”
He said he learned of protesters’ plans at 11 p.m. that Sunday to climb the mountain at 5:30 a.m. Monday with the intent of getting arrested in hopes of putting the project back in court. Braithwaite said he couldn’t very well call Green Mountain Power at that hour and ask permission to be on the site, nor did he think he could count on the utility to deliver him to the protest spot so he could observe the arrests.
Green Mountain Power Corp. spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said she doesn’t know if the utility will ask the prosecutor to drop the charge. The utility didn’t specifically request that he be arrested, she said, but also couldn’t allow anyone on the construction site who had not gone through a brief safety training and was accompanied by Green Mountain Power staff and wearing a hard hat and orange vest.
She also indicated that the utility is none too pleased with Braithwaite. He has editorialized against the project and spent a fair amount of time covering the protesters, she said.
Orleans County State’s Attorney Alan Franklin couldn’t be reached for comment Monday afternoon to say whether he plans to pursue the charge against Braithwaite. If he does, it would be highly unusual.
For journalists, this case holds the potential to set a scary precedent. The Hardwick Gazette and Caledonian-Record have weighed in with editorials in support of Braithwaite and the Vermont Press Association issued a statement.
“If I were Green Mountain Power, I would welcome the presence of the press. The presence of an outside observer is important to provide an objective report on what is happening at this remote site. It serves as a check on the authorities and the protesters,” VPA President Maria Archangelo said.
The Hardwick Gazette argued, “The health and safety of American democracy require that the press be allowed to report the news.”