Watching politics is akin to watching sausage-making — i.e., not for the squeamish or weak kneed. Opponents of industrial wind development on Vermont’s ridgelines are hoping the view from high atop Lowell Mountain will have a similar effect on anyone who is still undecided on this contentious issue.
For sure, that’s been the effect on Steve Wright. The former Vermont Fish and Wildlife commissioner under Gov. Madeleine Kunin has become a vocal opponent of Green Mountain Power’s Kingdom Community Wind Project, a 21-turbine industrial wind farm now under construction not far from his Albany, Vt., home.
"I’ve seen enough pictures of the site to make me nauseated," says Wright, 69, who can no longer make the strenuous hike up Lowell Mountain due to chronic back problems. "Frankly, I can’t even look at the pictures anymore."
But this weekend, the "Lowell Mountain Occupiers," a group that includes anti-industrial-wind protesters encamped near GMP's construction site as well as other grassroots opponents, are inviting others to make the 45-minute climb and then decide for themselves. On Sunday, December 4, the group is holding its second "Mountaintop Open House" adjacent to GMP's construction zone. The first open house, held November 13, attracted more than 90 people. According to organizers of that event, a show of hands from the group indicated that they unanimously supported holding a second open house.
Although this weekend's event is being billed as a “nonjudgmental, nonconfrontational” event — no civil disobedience or overt anti-wind advocacy is scheduled — no one really expects GMP president and CEO Mary Powell to greet hikers at the top with muffins and Gatorade, then plead her case for the benefits of industrial wind.
Nevertheless, open-house organizer Anne Morse says the event is intended for individuals with a wide range of interests and questions: those who support wind power generally but are conflicted about ridgeline development; folks who are concerned about the loss of wildlife habitat, water-quality issues and/or the aesthetics of large-scale wind; those in favor of wind development who wonder why people oppose it; and anyone simply curious about what the project looks like up close.
"Projects like the one on the Lowell Mountains have been proposed for over 200 miles of Vermont’s ridgeline, so it’s very important that the residents of the state have a chance to see what the changes to the ridge look like, and to gather information from sources besides the developers," Morse writes in a press statement. "These projects affect everyone."
Don and Shirley Nelson, the Lowell landowners who have been engaged in a very public legal battle with GMP about the Lowell project, are in no way involved in the open house, except that their property is unposted, which by Vermont law allows visitors to be there without fear of trespass. No blasting is scheduled for this weekend, so organizers insist there's no danger that visitors will violate the temporary restraining order imposed on the Nelsons and visitors to their land. As Wright puts it, "We're not interested in challenging anything but realities."
Anyone interested in attending should meet in the parking lot of the Albany Community School (on Route 14, north of the Albany village center) at 11:30 a.m. and carpool to the base of the mountains. Following a short informational overview of the project, groups will hike (at their own pace) to the top.
At the camp, ther group will hold a brief orientation of the site and make time for questions and answers, warming by the campfire. The hike up the mountain takes 30 minutes to an hour. Organizers urge interested attendees to bring a daypack with water and lunch or snacks, and dress for the weather by wearing several layers and a warm hat, as well as hiking shoes or rubber boots, as the trail is muddy and steep. If there's snow, gaiters or appropriate boots are recommended. Attendees may also want to bring a walking stick or snowshoe poles. The event will take place rain or shine.
Does Wright expect people to see the environmental impact firsthand and become as "nauseated" as he is?
“Well, that would be an accomplishment,” he says with a laugh. “But it’s broader than that. Many people are unfamiliar with the level of [destruction]. So, our purpose is to show people that effect, and let them make up their own minds.”
For more information, contact Anne Morse at firstname.lastname@example.org or 281-4432.
File photo: Ken Picard