NEWPORT – The protesters arrested on Lowell Mountain for unlawful trespass were found guilty by a jury Wednesday evening after a day-long trial. The protesters were on Lowell Mountain where Green Mountain Power (GMP) is constructing a wind turbine farm.
The self-proclaimed “Lowell Six” say they are disappointed by the verdict but will continue their advocacy for Vermont ridgelines.
Their attorney, Kristina Michelson, says the case is definitely not over. She will file two motions: one to vacate the verdict and another for a new trial based on mistakes that occurred during the trial. She said errors occurred during the jury instructions. Some information she wanted read to the jury was left out before jurors began deliberations. Other miscellaneous errors occurred as well, according to Michelson, which she will raise in the motions.
The state said it would seek restitution from the defendants but that will not happen until the motions are resolved.
Dorothy (Dotty) Schnure, the corporate spokesperson for GMP, said Monday that the protesters had a fair trial by a jury of their peers. Asked about what it costs when the people on the mountain are prevented from working, she said that she doesn’t have the numbers, but that when the approximately 150 people working on the mountain sit idle with a lot of heavy equipment, “the costs are not insignificant.”
The group was arrested on a section of disputed land. Trip Wileman, who leases land to green Mountain Power (GMP), owns land adjacent to Shirley and Don Nelson. The Nelsons say that a section of the land under construction is actually theirs, not Wileman's.
On Dec. 5 of last year, the protesters of GMP’s 21 industrial size wind turbines stood in that disputed area and blocked construction vehicles for a couple of hours. When police arrived, the protesters had the option to leave but chose to stay and were subsequently arrested.
A journalist covering the event, Chris Braithwaite of the Chronicle, was also arrested, but will have a separate trial and a different defense.
Following the verdict, the group said they would “continue their work to help Vermonters understand the failure of ridgeline wind to alleviate climate change or to provide inexpensive and reliable electrical energy,” Steve Wright, a spokesperson for the protesters, said in a statement.
The advocates against GMP’s project say that industrial size turbines on ridgelines disrupt intact ecosystems by clear cutting trees and blasting. They also disapprove of the storm water system measures for the area and have other concerns. Advocates say the power produced is very expensive and turbines will do nothing to stop climate change.
The defendants are Dr. Ron Holland, 67, of Irasburg; Ryan Gillard, 23, of Plainfield; Eric Wallace-Senft, 46, of Wolcott; Suzanna Jones, 50, of Walden; David Rogers, 69, of Craftsbury, and Anne Morse, 48, of Craftsbury.
After the arrests, more civil disobedience and subsequent arrests occurred. Several said they know the project is moving forward but want to draw public awareness to the issues.
In mid-July, approximately 100 people turned out to protest and the group ended up stepping in front of a truck transporting large turbine components before it could turn into the construction site. Protesters blocked the truck for about two hours. Two protesters were arrested that day and are expected in court in early September to answer a disorderly conduct charge. Protesters negotiated with police before any more were arrested.
In early August, about 50 protesters hiked Lowell Mountain and again stood in the disputed property and blocked vehicles until police arrived. Six people were arrested.
Activists are periodically holding civil disobedience seminars. Meanwhile, the case regarding the disputed land is sitting in civil court, unresolved.
“This is and will continue to be a complex case that rejects the simple and disingenuous offerings of Green Mountain Power. We will continue to educate Vermonters on the science and math of ridgeline wind-generated electricity,” said defendant Ron Holland.
“This issue will continue to reverberate across Vermont. Of course we must respond to existing climate change. Of course we must have reliable sources of electricity. Ridgeline wind provides neither. Protecting our life-giving mountains must be our first task. Vermonters are smart enough to figure this out," Gillard, another protester, said following the trial.
Ann Morse added, “It is important that Vermonters learn the truth about industrial wind and demand change from the legislature. If any Vermonter supports our cause, we welcome them to join us in our effort to bring about effective strategies against existing climate change while protecting our landscape. As our voice grows, the stronger we become.”