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November 29, 2011

Mountaintop "Open House" Looks to Break Big Wind on Lowell Mountain

618LM-LowelMNTWatching 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 [email protected] or 281-4432.

File photo: Ken Picard

How about telling both sides of the story, the other being that most vermonters want to see this project and others like it built ASAP. Steve is sounding like a total NIMBY. Build it!

The irony is that the only reason these projects exist are generous government subsidies ala Solyndra. Wind power from Lowell mountain will never make a profit but the shareholders will-thanks to Federal "incentives".

Both sides can clearly be seen up on the Lowell ridgeline. What was once an extraordinarily lush and wet mountain top now resembles a moonscape. Thank you to everyone who is making it possible for people to see the devastation. Vermont's politicians have lost sight of what Vermont is all about.

I think the "title" to this story says it all if you read it again closely.Stay upwind whatever you do.

Tim (above)is right. It's the federal tax credits, the legislative pot of gold, that the developers are after. IMHO, it seems that many of the ideological proponents of industrial wind are the same folks who are nauseated by Big Business. Industrial Wind IS Big Business.

Does anyoine remember that there used to be a hotel at the top of Camel's Hump, and a road leading to the hotel? And that Lowell is host to a disused asbestos mine? And that there were talc, copper, and uranium -- yes, uranium -- mines throughout the Vermont mountains? And that there were, and are still, slate, marble, and granite quarries everywhere? And that virtually the entire Vermont landscape -- including Lowell Mountain -- were clearcut? All you drama queens who are acting like the Vermont mountaintops are some sacred, untouched, primitve landscape that was always wild, are either ignorant or intentionally deluding yourselves for selfish purposes. The erections of the wind turbines isn't "destroying" anything that hasn't already been changed by man and nature counteless times over in Vermont history.

It is a sad, pathetic human conceit to think that everything as it is now is the way it always was and just the way it always should be.

If Annette were alive in 3,000 BC she'd be protesting the building of the pyramids because it ruins the desert.

If she were alive in 1930 she'd be protesting the building of the Empire State Buliding because it ruins New York City.

Annette and her friends have topped NIMBYism. It's now called BANANA -- Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Annette.

Wow Caleb, really, who is the drama queen here?!

Easy: the Lowell Mountain "occupiers" and the NIMBYists and the BANANAists.

Blasting on the Lowell Mountains is using hundreds of thousands of pounds of explosives per mile. The mountain is being denuded not just of trees, but of soils that hold water, scraped down to reveal bedrock. The topography, hydrology and ecology of the mountains are being changed forever. None of what Caleb describes has required this level of destruction -- not the road to the top of Camel's hump, not the asbestos or other mines, not the ski areas which he didn't mention. By Caleb's (and Governor Shumlin's) rationale, we don't need to protect anything environmental anymore. The sky is falling, we don't have time for the debate, we have to build renewables everywhere as fast as possible. If that is what you support, then you are throwing away everything that Vermont has been about for decades, especially conserving lands above 2500 feet so they can perform their important ecological functions. Tomorrow's open house on the Lowell Mountains provides an opportunity for you to get educated and see what is happening

"By Caleb's (and Governor Shumlin's) rationale, we don't need to protect anything environmental anymore."

Set up totally bogus straw men, much?

Absolutely no one is saying we don't need to protect the environment anymore. What some people ARE saying, is that every energy decision has trade-offs. There's absolutely, positively no such things as free energy or energy generation that doesn't do some environmental harm. Your own solar panel is full of toxic chemicals that came from somewhere and will have to be disposed of somewhere.

On this particular project, society made a balancing decision and you lost.

Stop whining and accept that you live in a society in which you alone don't get to make all the decisions for everyone else.

Caleb, I agree with a few of your points i.e. trade-offs, solar panel toxins etc. Clearly we are making massive trade-offs every day via all of our consumption. And yes, in some way society is making a balancing decision. However, one of the benefits to creating our own power in our own backyard, is the ability to do it our way, as in the VT way. The wind lobby aka D. Blittersdorf and co has quietly created a system through the legislature to give all of the "power" to the PSB when making these decisions, with very little to no binding input from Vermonter's. IMO, this is not the VT way. This is the GW Bush way. aka make critical decisions about the future of our state with as little input as possible, taking advantage of the topic and fear of the day, just like in the immediate post 9/11 days, you we're "un-american" if you we're against the "Patriot act" or invading Iraq. Today it's, "how can you possibly be against "renewables" you must be anti-environment, clueless, a whiner etc...". The reality is, the vast majority of citizens who say they are all for renewables, are really for the idea of renewables, not the reality of them. This Lowell project is experimental at best. If we are going to experiment, which i think we should, let's do it where at least partial infrastructure already exists and where there is a viable wind resource. Lowell and Sheffield are not those places.

It's not like the PSB is some remote, unresponsive, faceless, unhuman bureaucracy in Washington, DC. It is 3 Vermont people trying to do their best. They are based just down the street in Montpelier. Anyone who wants can submit their comments to the PSB. The PSB members are our friends and neighbors.

And, by the way: all three of the current members were appointed by the notoriously anti-wind Governor Douglas.

I support the decision to put energy-siting decisions in the hands of the PSB, and not in local zoning boards, etc., where every yahoo with a backyard gets to veto these decisions based on pure NIMBYism. Energy plants are not the same as housing developments. We cannot function as a society if every single citizen is suddenly an "energy expert" and gets to veto a project ecause he or she lives down the street. Democracy doesn't mean that Joe Sixpack can kill a needed energy facility because he wants it "somewhere else." EVERYBODY wants it somewhere else, and somewhere else ultimately equals NOWHERE.

The public, including towns, have spent more than $1 million now participating in the PSB process on 5 wind projects. The PSB has ignored their input. There is nothing responsive to the public about the PSB where wind development is concerned. When asked, they tell people that "our hands are tied", your beef is with the legislature who set policies that mean we have no choice but to approve them. Three people are deciding the future of our state based on input from developers who will make more than 10% in profits. These projects are extraordinarily profitable for the corporations, at the expense of our communities. Do you really support that kind of energy paradigm?

"The PSB has ignored their input."

That's an outright lie, and it's based on the fact that you didn't get your way. Shame on you for this sucrrilous accusation.

Shall we ask the three PSB members if they believe that they "ignored the public input"?

Hey Caleb, you need a fact checker angry guy "That's an outright lie, and it's based on the fact that you didn't get your way." How would you know the facts of someone's personal opinion?

The three member board is made up of at least one appointee who was originally appointed by Gov Dean, not Douglas. He was re-appointed by Douglas. And the point is not that they don't work hard or work in Vermont. Anyone can comment? That is an over simplification, I know from direct experience, that simply is not true. You need a smaller brush to paint with Caleb. There is some middle grounds here. Sure, there are extremists on both sides (like yourself), but there are many who have yet to make up there mind, but are deeply discouraged by a process that doesn't pass the smell test.

Oh, I see, but that accusation by Smith that all three members of the PSB simply shirked their legal duties and their professional and ethical obligations and "ignored public input" is a perfectly okay thing to say?

Get a grip.

Shame on these disgraceful accusations by the losers in this process.

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