Protesters camp on Lowell Mountain to halt blasting for turbines

A Sterling College student who chose to identify himself as Bumblebee takes a break after climbing to the campsite. Photo by Chris Braithwaite.
A Sterling College student who chose to identify himself as Bumblebee takes a break after climbing to the campsite. Photo by Chris Braithwaite.

Editor’s note: This story by Chris Braithwaite first appeared in the Barton Chronicle.

LOWELL — The campsite, with its six small tents and a sheltered kitchen area, is a long, difficult hike from the nearest road.

But it’s close to a heavy orange tape that threads through the woods, from tree to tree, marking the edge of the work area of Green Mountain Power’s industrial wind power site.

Close enough to hear the heavy equipment as it works its way up Lowell Mountain from the west. Plenty close to hear the echoing booms of the blasting.

The campsite is there to stop the blasting. Established by students at Sterling College in nearby Craftsbury Common, and supported by a growing list of volunteers, it sits near the western boundary of Don and Shirley Nelson’s farm.

The campers have parked their tents close to the project in the hope that contractors won’t be able to safely detonate the high explosives needed to build a wide crane path along the ridgeline and the turbine sites it would link together.

Early this week the contractors were still working their way up the mountain toward the ridgeline.

As the workers approach, the Nelsons say, they will need to be mindful of the safety of their “guests” on the mountain.

“Our guests will be camping, recreating and hunting in that area for the foreseeable future,” they wrote in a letter to Green Mountain Power President Mary Powell. “We trust you will be respectful of their presence and particularly their safety.

“We would appreciate receiving written confirmation that no fly-rock from you blasting will trespass or intrude on our property and that nobody will be endangered,” the letter concludes.

The Nelsons have fought the wind project for years, ever since turbines were first proposed on Lowell Mountain by a less determined developer who withdrew in the face of local opposition.

So far, their efforts to preserve the mountain have failed. But this time they hope they have found a way to use their close proximity to the project to bring it to a grinding halt.

Nelson says that high explosives require a 750-foot safety zone, free of people, before they can be set off. The campsite is well within that limit, he says.

Green Mountain Power spokesman Dorothy Schnure said in an interview that Nelson’s estimate “could be” right.

If the campsite is in the way of the blasting, the question becomes how the contractor would force people to leave private property so the work could proceed.

Last week Attorney General William Sorrell told the Associated Press that the state’s trespassing law wouldn’t apply in this case. If people are camping or hunting with the landowner’s permission, he said, “there’s no criminal violation that readily comes to mind.”

“We’re not up there yet,” Ms. Schnure said when asked what the utility plans to do. “I think there’s time to address that.”

If a boundary dispute is settled in the Nelsons’ favor, Don Nelson said, his line would move virtually up to the construction side itself. After hiking through some particularly rough terrain, he found a pin set into the base of a small tree by surveyor Paul Hannan.

Hannan, who was hired by the Nelsons to mark the property line, set the pin at what could be the northwestern corner of the Nelson farm. It sits 156 feet west of the current line. The tape marking the Kingdom Community Wind project’s work zone is wound around the tree where Hannan set his stake.

From where the six tents have been set up, Nelson said, his property line should move 181 feet to the west.

Nelson believes that the heavy orange tape, and another that runs parallel to it some distance to the west, mark the limits of the road needed to carry the massive crane that would erect the towers. If he’s right, the boundary marked by Hannan would force Green Mountain Power to re-engineer its project, moving it down the mountain to the west.

The property dispute is with Trip Wileman, who promoted the wind project before Green Mountain Power came into the picture, and has leased the utility land for most of its 21 turbine sites.

In an interview in September 2010, Wileman said he considers the boundary a settled matter, the subject of a signed agreement with the Nelsons.

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  • Edd Foerster

    This is disgraceful. I wonder how many of the “campers” bothered to participate in the multitude of hearings at the Public Service Board.

    • What’s disgraceful is the lack of informed comment, such as this. Our presence and that of Energize Vermont at/in the PSB hearing/proceedings has been constant and strong, all the way through the process.
      There is no substitute for the hard work of one’s self-education on the issue of wind energy in Vermont (check out the National Renewable Energy Lab – We are all advocates of non-destructive alternative energy sources.
      So easy to distort our efforts, so much more strenuous to be truly informed.

    • Kevin McGrath

      The hearings were nothing but a dog and pony show. I was there and the fix was in from King Shumlin…..Private citizens taking on GMP (Gaz Metro)is nearly impossible. The Lowell project will be the bench mark of wind failure in New England.

      I will have a great time when the media visits my home and sees what GMP has done in the name of green energy ( Green Money)

      GMP bought the selectmen for peanuts!!

    • Candice Shaffer

      I attended many of the Public Service Board hearings and found the room where the hearings were held was so small that there was little room for the public to attend. One day I witnessed a large group of students from Sterling College attend the hearing. Most of them had to stand in the hall for lack of space in the room… and they did just that for the afternoon. They listened quietly to what they could hear through the door as the sound had to travel down the hall where many of them stood. A few were able to find space to sit on the floor.
      It was my observation from talking with them that they genuinely cared about the mountain and hoped that the state would uphold it’s environmental laws to protect this place they know well through their outings there as biology students. They are on the mountain to protect what they know, what they love and exercise their rights as Americans and as humans with integrity. I felt a great sense of gratitude to have these young people be a part of our community. It gave me hope for the future to talk to them and feel their integrity. It is my hope that their expression of trust in our Vermont government will be matched by leaders that will consistently uphold our environmental laws regardless of who requests permits. I feel that at this time the Agency of Natural Resources and the governor himself would do well to hear these students and take a lesson from them about stewarding what is left of America’s natural elements for future generations and find energy solutions that contribute to solving our environmental and economic problems instead of complicating them even more.

  • greg bryant

    God bless the students from Sterling College. Hopefully, they can prevent what has happened here in Sheffield. A massive industrial project, complete with blinking, strobing lights,,, lit all along our once pristine ridgeline. It looks like a giant metal scrap heap piled atop 4 of our most beautiful mountains…

    The damage to our small rural community is immeasurable, the gains practically non existent…

    How can so called environmentalists profess to love the Green Mountains and then help to destroy them by supporting a useless, hideous, technology?

    It is not just a local problem, it impacts communities from
    NH to the Canadian Border.

    There must be a better way to promote a green environment without destroying the one we have.

  • I love it! STOP the sWINDle, habitat and wildlife destruction by wind turbines. Hats off to the Nelsons, Sterling College students and all who camp to protect our resources from exploitation. You’re patriots in my book.

  • Cynthia Barber

    Mr. Foerster: How many PSB hearings did you attend? How many of the hundreds of documents filed in this docket did you read? How can you be so critical of something you know so little about?

  • Michelle Guenard

    I applaud the efforts of students and others who are trying to keep this issue in the public eye. And, that includes supporters of the wind farm.
    I am former journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), now living in Craftsbury.
    I support the concept of wind energy. We even looked into the possibility of erecting our own small turbine. However, we soon discovered that this part of the Green Mountain State is not windy enough to make it feasible. See the attached wind map or google ‘wind powering america’. Click on Vermont to see closeups.

    So, I was curious when I heard that wind farms were being proposed here.

    When I learned that Gaz Metro was the parent company of Green Mountain Power I became alarmed. vtdigger recently did a very comprehensive story about what I already knew – that Gaz Metro is part of a web of multinationals, many with very sketchy environmental records.

    Most alarming is the involvement of Enbridge – a parent company of Gaz Metro which also happens to have sitting members on the board of Green Mountain Power.
    Please google ‘Enbridge Oil Spill’ or ‘Enbridge environmental record’. Or you can jump to this story…
    If you don’t feel like linking, here’s an except of the story.
    “Between 1999 and 2008 Enbridge recorded 610 spills that released 132,000 barrels of hydrocarbons into farms, wetlands and waterways on the continent. According to the Polaris Institute, this volume of crude “amounts to approximately half of the oil that spilled from the oil tanker the Exxon Valdez after it struck a rock in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1988.”

    Many of these multinationals are currently involved in so-called ‘green projects’ for the sole purpose of acquiring green energy credits as ‘offsets’… much like ‘carbon credits’ are bought, sold and used to offset pollution producers in other arms of the same company.

    As this issue has heated up, I’ve also noticed that different departments within the Vermont government have been issuing opposing assessments of the environmental importance of the Lowell Mountain Range. In January of 2010, Vermont’s Department of Fish and Wildlife issued the following press release touting the importance of the exact location of the Lowell wind farm.
    If you don’t feel like linking the excerpt reads:
    “The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department has identified the area as important because it provides quality areas for animals to move across roads, through relatively undeveloped lands, and between identified patches of critical upland and lowland habitats”.
    The state of Vermont even offers landowners thousands of dollars per acre worth of incentives to protect this corridor through the ‘Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program’.

    However, proponents of wind power at the state level have testified at public hearings that the exact opposite is true; that erecting a man-made structure in the middle of this corridor will have little impact on the migration of animals.

    So which is true?

    Each side in this debate will claim the argument that suits them. And that is their prerogative.

    But, I would urge both sides to be vigilant. Some of the biggest players in this ‘green’ initiative have a long record of being anything but. And, if history repeats itself, everyone in this part of the Northeast Kingdom will pay the price.

  • Alex Barnham

    I am amazed at how much effort is being put into blocking the generators of electricity but so little is being said about over-consumption. I attended a seminar last month that promoted energy conservation in a large room with lots of sunlight. Yet 42 light bulbs burning 150 watts were consuming needlessly and no one knew how to shut them off. Radio stations run all night long, lights run all night long with no effort in sight to conserve. GMP will not put investment money into unnecessary electric generators. This nation need some integrity.

  • Edd Foerster

    Did “Bumblebee” (how cute!) attend any PSB hearings?

  • Kate Scarlott

    Why does Edd Foerster feel it necessary to make personal attacks rather than dealing with the issue? It’s an easy way to deflect the important, relevant and educated information that’s been provided in most of the other responses to this article. Civility is critical in a democracy. But beyond civility — focus on the reality. Just one part of that reality: wide roads are being blasted into a wilderness, essential habitat for wildlife, when the “savings” from the power generated could be harmlessly matched by conservation. Keep to the issue, Mr. Foerster, rather than lobbing belittling comments about individuals with the passion and integrity to stand up for their beliefs.

  • No one is mentioning CO2 emissions reduction due to wind energy.

    There are now three studies performed in Colorado and the Netherlands by independent energy systems analysts who have decades of experience. They all conclude wind energy does not reduce CO2 emissions.

    The reason there is almost no CO2 reduction due to wind energy, is because
    quick-ramping gas turbine balancing plants are required to ramp down with wind energy surges and ramp up with wind energy ebbs; a very
    inefficient way to operate gas turbines which requires much more fuel per kWh and emits much more CO2 per kWh almost entirely off setting the fuel and CO2 wind energy was meant to reduce. It is business as usual with state officials, even though they have been repeatedly informed of these studies; i.e., no deniability.

    Expensive energy is great for Vermonters? The visuals are great for tourism? Environmental damage is great for flora and fauna? Expensive energy is great for electric rates?

    Higher electric rates will lower living standards and lower business profits, slow down economic growth, reduces tax collections, slows repair of flood damage, reduces investment in new, more efficient ways to create goods and services. Nightmare scenario?

    Shulman, et al, is rushing his Comprehensive Energy Plan through, because the federal 30% cash subsidy bonanza is expiring in 2015. This bonanza is of big benefit to wind turbine vendors (mostly foreign), project developers (such as GMP which seems to have project supervision problems) and financiers managing tax shelters (the Wall Street crowd, et al; giant tax shelters to benefit the top 1% of households).