Dissent on the 'Lowell Six'
To the Editor:
On Friday, Nov. 22, the Vermont Supreme Court upheld the Lowell Six's conviction for criminal trespass on Lowell Mountain, Dec. 5, two years ago. My husband, Eric Wallace-Senft, is one of the defendants. With interest, naturally, I read the decision; the greater interest is perhaps in Justice Dooley's dissent. In it, he cuts to the puzzling heart of the matter: the criminal case of unlawful trespass was backwardly taken up by the court before the civil case of who owns the property had been legally determined. On the piece of ridgeline where the arrest occurred, Green Mountain Power built a sizable road as part of their wind tower project. GMP claims lease rights; Don and Shirley Nelson claim outright ownership. Who legally owns that piece of property has not yet wound its laborious way through the civil court system. Additionally, Dooley writes that the "court's failure to address ownership in its jury instructions undoubtedly confused the jury," and the jury, in fact, addressed two specific questions to Judge Maley, who refused answers.
On a wider level, the obfuscation of what this trial was actually about reflects the larger confusion regarding the contentious subject of wind towers. So much, on both sides of this issue, has been written and debated, with heightened emotions, endless disputing facts, and vehement statements. For anyone who takes a step back from this fray, what does surface is how incredibly skilled this corporation of Green Mountain Power (not Vermont-owned, but Canadian-owned by Enbridge, of the vilified Tar Sands) has been at muddying the waters, touting this project as "green" and categorizing opponents often as climate change deniers or rabble rousing tree huggers. While one legislator wrote me that GMP had far underestimated the Nelsons' flintiness, I think it's equally hard to underplay the sheer tenacity and determination of GMP to construct the Lowell project. And why was this? Out of a sense of global concern, legislative mandate, or forward thinking? I'll go out on a limb and say $49 million in tax credits was the engine driving this madness -- a material object of such importance it was mentioned in the Supreme Court's upholding decision. It's agonizing to point out to my high school age daughter that the trail of money grinds so deeply into all three prongs of our Vermont government. What a lamentable day it is in Vermont when a mega-millionaire corporation can build an industrial-sized road on a piece of property under legal contest in this state, while an ordinary tax-paying citizen couldn't so much as construct a bluebird house on her neighbor's disputed property. The might of that corporation and its avaricious greed superseded ordinary justice.
My husband comes from a long line of clergy, his lineage stretching back to the Mayflower's cooper. Just as those pilgrims, in their hour of uncertainty and despair, came together and wrote the Mayflower Compact, so it seems to me as Vermonters we are desperately in need of a contemporary version of the Mayflower Compact, one in which all concerned citizens act as citizens, and not as recipients -- in whatever way -- of corporate money. I have no doubt Vermonters sense the peril looming before us, but to descend into bickering amongst ourselves, while the jackbooted thugs of corporations bulge their bank accounts, seems foolishly blind on our part.
As a spouse, I've found the past two years at times maddening, with its accompanying financial and emotional duress, but I know unequivocally my husband, a carpenter and sugarmaker, believed himself compelled to climb the snowy ridgeline that morning, using his own two feet to stand up against what was primarily a clandestine environmental atrocity with a $49 million dollar bonus, tidily "greened up" by Green Mountain Power's spin.
The work of the Lowell Six's jury is done. But our work is not. Unlike the jurors in that courtroom, we are not charged with determining decisions in a judicial vacuum. As our puritan forbearers faced their dark night, desperate times are imminently near. Will we seek the hard and knotty answers to our most fearful questions, or will we accept the subterfuge and smokescreen of a corporation's skullduggery? I believe in Vermonters' grit, lust for our mountains, and sagacious acumen. Now is the time to tug up our own bootstraps.
Brett Ann Stanciu
West Woodbury, Vt.