NEWPORT, Vt. (AP) — Six protesters who blocked a road leading to a wind power project on a mountain in Lowell have been found guilty of trespassing.
A jury in Newport returned the verdict on Wednesday night after a one-day trial.
The protesters were accused of lining the path to prevent workers and trucks from reaching the area where Green Mountain Power Corp. contractors are building the wind energy project on Lowell Mountain in Lowell, a small town in the northern part of the state.
The protesters, dubbed the Lowell 6, said wind turbines being built will mar a pristine mountain for no environmental benefit. They were arrested Dec. 5.
Orleans County deputy state's attorney Sarah Baker said the protesters knew they didn't have permission from Green Mountain Power to be on the land.
But one of the protesters, Ryan Gillard, told WCAX-TV (bit.ly/Spdqiq) he didn't know how the state could try them for trespass when a civil court hasn't settled a lawsuit over who owns the land.
The protesters' lawyer, Kristina Michelsen, had said in court before the verdict the state would be "utterly unable to prove" that Green Mountain Power had the lawful authority to exclude her clients from the property where they were arrested.
The state said the land the protesters refused to leave is owned by Lowell resident Trip Wileman, who leased it to Green Mountain Power.
The defense said the land belongs to Don Nelson, who is suing Wileman and Green Mountain Power in a separate case over the location of the property line. Nelson said he's not stopping anyone from being on the land.
"My land is open," Nelson said in court. "So people come and go, and I don't invite them or not invite them. It's open land."
Green Mountain Power's 21-turbine wind power project could meet the annual electrical needs of more than 20,000 households, about 50,000 residents. It has drawn vigorous opposition from some neighbors and environmentalists, whose concerns include its effects on wildlife, noise from the turbines and marring unspoiled mountain vistas. Much of the opposition has come from people living in two small neighboring towns, Albany and Craftsbury.
Green Mountain Power is a unit of Northern New England Energy Corp., which is owned by Gaz Metro. It said the presence of protesters on the construction site has created a safety hazard, added costs and strained law enforcement resources. It noted the wind project was supported by 75 percent of Lowell voters who cast ballots on the issue on Town Meeting Day 2010.
Information from: WCAX-TV, http://www.wcax.com