LOWELL - Construction on the ridge line of Lowell Mountain for the large wind turbine project is on schedule following a week of heated controversy that included the threat of a lawsuit by Green Mountain Power (GMP) and protesters occupying an area near the construction site in an attempt to stop the project.
The showdown between Don and Shirley Nelson and GMP, the company developing the project, hit a tipping point Friday when the Orleans Superior Court granted GMP a restraining order against the Nelsons "and any and all of their agents, employees, attorneys, invitees, licensees, permittees and all and any other person acting in concert and/or in participation with Defendant Donald Nelson and/or Defendant Shirley Nelson...."
The Nelsons have been allowing campers to stay on their property near the construction of the 21, 457-feet tall wind turbines that are underway on an abutting property.
A judge in Orleans Country Superior Court issued the restraining order, which requires the Nelsons and their "guests" to get out of the way of construction during blasting. The campers were too close for blasting to safely occur on the ridge line.
Judge Martin Maley issued an order that prohibits them from being within 1,000 of the northwesterly boundary of their property. The order is an affect one hour before, during and one hour after any blasting takes place on the project site. The order is in affect from Oct. 17 to Nov. 23.
The campers had no intention of leaving their campsite prior to the restraining order.
One opponent to the project is Richard Rumery of Newport Center. Rumery has engaged in a letter writing campaign to area newspapers over the issue. Rumery plans to visit the Nelsons.
“I just want to see what is going on,” Rumery said on Monday. “I’m really concerned about this whole thing. It seems people are being railroaded into doing this thing.”
Rumery first got involved after attending a project meeting held at Bob’s Quick Stop earlier this year. Up until that point, he didn’t think there was any way to turn the project around.
Rumery is worried the project will detour tourists from coming to the area. He is also concerned about the environmental affects the project will cause.
“I usually don’t get too passionate about things, but this struck a nerve with me,” said Rumery who stressed he does not oppose small wind towers. “I don’t think these big projects are a good fit for the state.”
The towers are too big and will take away from the natural ridge lines, Rumery said.
Last week, GMP offered to buy the Nelsons' 600 acre historical farm for $1.25 million. Later, GMP threatened to sue them for $1-millon or more if they allowed the campers to impede construction of the project.
After the lawsuit was threatened, the Nelsons raised their asking price for the farm by a million dollars to $2.25 million.
GMP spokesperson Dotty Schnure said GMP was not willing to pay that price and said GMP would not sue if the Nelsons moved the campers during blasting.
“It’s in the Nelsons' hands,” Schnure said Thursday, adding that the campers would just need to move out of the area for about 15 minutes throughout the day when blasting occurred. “It’s all about safety.”
On Monday, when blasting was slated to begin, Don Nelson said that there were no campers on his property. He did not know if and when they would be back.
Schnure said Monday that the project was not delayed.
GMP needs to have the project generating power by the end of 2012 in order to qualify for Federal production tax credits. GMP officials say the savings will be passed on to rate payers.
The Nelsons are active opponents to the Lowell Kingdom Community Wind project.
GMP contractors have been busy building the road up to the ridge line. The state had issued a stop work order on the road as a run-off violation occurred, but GMP worked quickly to resolve the issue and the state gave GMP the green light to proceed.
The Public Service Board (PSB) issued a Certificate of Public Good for the project.
Opponents have filed appeals to the storm water permits issued for the project and the PSB is currently holding a hearing on the appeals.
Don Nelson also confirmed that there is a property dispute. He said that he believes the line between his property and that of neighbor Benjamin “Trip” Wileman, the property owner leasing land to GMP, is incorrect and some of his property is being used in the project.
Schnure said that she has seen no evidence to support Nelson’s claim.