Updated below — Six protesters arrested for blocking road.
After gathering at 5 a.m. this morning, a group of 20 or so "mountain occupiers" hiked to the ridge of Lowell Mountain to block construction of wind turbines. Their plan: Camp out in the crane path — a crucial thoroughfare for construction at Green Mountain Power's Kingdom Community Wind project — until "the situation is resolved," according to a press release put out by the demonstrators.
Protesters have formed a human blockade, where occupiers are singing, chanting and brandishing signs that read "Stop Destroying Vermont" and "Shumlin Lies." An additional 25 protestors have joined the barricade since early this morning, bringing their numbers to around 45.
The protesters made the march to the ridge line by way of Don and Shirley Nelson's adjoining property, and were on site to block construction vehicles at 7 a.m.. They're making their stand on the same piece of land where, in December, six protesters and one reporter were arrested for trespassing. The ownership of the land is currently in dispute between the Nelsons and GMP.
Craftsbury Commons resident Steve Wright, an outspoken opponent of the wind development, is stationed near the access point on Route 100. Wright told Seven Days by phone that the drumming and chanting from the ridge line can be heard in the valley east of the project. While Wright hiked the ridge line for 25 years, his "aging legs" didn't let him join the protest this morning.
"This is not about stopping the project," Wright says, acknowledging that construction will inevitably continue at the 21-turbine wind development. "This is about stopping other projects that are as ill- thought-out and land abusive — projects that really don’t do anything for climate change action."
Wright contends that the Lowell project will have no significant impact on climate change, and that in disturbing an intact mountain ecosystem, the project is doing more harm than good.
"We're trying to communicate to Vermonters what we're losing if we continue to blow up our ridgelines," Wright says. He feels confident that the message from Lowell is, in fact, stirring others to action, pointing to mounting opposition to proposed wind projects like Seneca Mountain Wind in Newark, Brighton and Ferdinand, and Grandpa's Knob Wind Park in Pittsford, Hubbardton, Castleton and West Rutland.
"It seems to us that things are turning," Wright says.
Up on the ridge line, Irasburg resident Ron Holland says by phone that the mood is still festive. "They're square dancing at the moment," he says. But the protesters have heard word that four police SUVs and a cruiser are parked at the access point to the project near Route 100. All but six of the protesters plan to leave the crane path when asked.
Like Wright, Holland thinks that the protesters' message is getting out — but he says the problem is bigger than Lowell.
"I think there is progress being made, but I think at this point this goes beyond alternative energy and wind power. Who does the state serve? Does it serve its people, or does it serve corporations?" he asks.
In a statement from GMP this morning, spokesperson Dorothy Schnure writes, "It is regrettable that a small group has once again resorted to illegal actions. Their presence on the construction site creates a safety hazard, adds cost for our customers, and strains finite law enforcement resources in the area, putting local towns and citizens at risk." Schnure adds that the project enjoys broad statewide support and won the approval of three-quarters of Lowell voters.
Lowell select board chair Richard Pion hadn't heard news of the protest yet when Seven Days reached him this morning, but says that the most recent protest — an action that held up traffic on Route 100 for two hours last month — was made up largely out of out-of-towners. With the first turbines now erected, Pion says he's heard from a few residents who don't mind the towers now that they're up. Pion, who can see some of the first completed turbines from his home, describes the towers as "graceful," and says he hasn't heard any supporters of the project change their minds now that construction is under way.
"If [the protestors] want to have a peaceful protest, and they're not interrupting anything, I don't have a problem with it," say Pion. But he takes issue with protesters blocking roads or construction vehicles. "As far as I’m concerned, the police should go up there and arrest them. ... They’re interfering with progress."
Photo and video courtesy the Lowell Mountain Talk blog.
**Update - Tuesday August 7**
Yesterday's protest at Lowell Mountain culminated in six arrests for unlawful trespass. Vermont State Police and several Lamoille County sheriffs' deputies responded to the site. Nearly all of the estimated 45 protesters blocking the construction road stepped aside when asked to do so by law enforcement. Six refused to comply: Raymond Micklon, age 50 of Craftsbury Common; William Roddy, age 66 of Barton; Dennis Liddy, age 64 of Westfield; Keith Ballek, age 56 of Sheffield; Meredith Jones, age 63 of Irasburg; and Carol Irons, age 71 of Albany. The six were cited to appear at Orleans County Criminal Court on September 25.
Lowell resident Kevin McGrath was based along Route 100 during the protest to relay information up to protesters on the mountain. McGrath says the protest was civil on all sides, with law enforcement officials treating the protesters with respect and courtesy. He hopes that even if Lowell has to be the "sacrificial lamb," the protesters can persuade other towns to take note. "It's not too late for other towns," McGrath says.
Roddy, a stone mason who was one of the six arrested, spoke with Seven Days by phone this morning from his home. Roddy (pictured being arrested) says he wasn't a political person before joining the group of wind opponents in Lowell. "I'd never even spoken out at a town meeting or anything like that," he says. But after hearing about the Lowell project, he says, "I knew right away in my heart it was a bad idea." Roddy believes the development on Lowell Mountain purely benefits corporations, and that state leaders have sided with utilities and developers instead of considering the good of communities.
"The process was so rigged," Roddy says. "I thought that by getting arrested, we could bring attention to [that]."
Roddy commended law enforcement for their friendly and respectful treatment of the protesters, adding that the trooper who handcuffed him was careful to ask if the handcuffs were too tight. He hopes that yesterday's protest encourages more Vermonters to "get involved" in what he terms a growing movement for a moratorium on wind development in the state.
"We're building something," Roddy says. "There's a lot more momentum, and maybe we're a part of it."
Photo of Roddy courtesy of John Dillon/Vermont Public Radio