95 online
Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 10 Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
General News   

Artists Fight State of Vermont for Mountaintop Studio/Home

Message William Boardman
Become a Fan
  (34 fans)



      By William Boardman  Email address removed"> Email address removed  


The first time the power company sent a crew to drill on a mountaintop it coveted, the company's heavy-duty truck flipped, rolled over twice, and ended up upside down, trapping the driver in the cab and throwing another worker clear.  This was in October 2010, and the power company's assault on the mountaintop still goes on today. 


This is no ordinary 2,100-foot mountaintop in western Vermont, it's the only one for miles around that has a house on the peak, with spectacular views in all directions.  When it was built in 1977, it was completely off the grid, generating power from a small windmill and a propane generator.  For phone service, the original owner also built a radio tower in 1983 that he and a few others used for local, two-way radio communication, as well as his own low-power radio station and paging service, Northeast Mountain Radio.  Therein lies the source of a years-long legal battle between the power company and the current owners. http://www.artdep.com/about/press_1.htm 


The power company is VELCO, the Vermont Electric Power Company, Inc, part of an interlocking multi-corporate entity, created and owned by Vermont power generating companies as the nation's first statewide operator of a state's electric transmission grid -- a system that includes 732 miles off transmission lines, 53 substations, and 13,000 acres of rights-of-way. http://www.velco.com/Pages/Default.aspx 


In 2007, the current owners bought their mountaintop home on Northeast Mountain in Wells, Vermont, population 1,085 and shrinking slowly.  They are a married couple of Russian-born ceramic artists, Felix Kniazev and Olga Julinska, whose company, Art Department, has studios in downtown Boston and mountaintop Vermont, but they had plans to move to Wells and increase the population by four (they have two sons).   



When they bought the house, they didn't get the easement for the radio tower and the buried power lines leading to it.  By then the original owner had sold the 72-foot tower and its easement in 2003 to Jim Fisher who was using it for a local radio station.  Felix and Olga were negotiating with James Fischer of Ballston Spa, N.Y.,  to buy the tower when he quietly and without warning sold the tower and easement to VELCO, setting up what has been an almost three-year battle now between the power company and the artists. 


During the summer of 2010, VELCO initiated its effort to take the mountaintop to use for a larger antenna that the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) described in a similar action in St. Albans in 2010 as " part of VELCO's Statewide Radio Project ("SRP") that involves the creation of a private mobile communications network consisting of multiple wireless communications facilities. The facilities will be located throughout the state for purposes associated with utility installations, repair and maintenance of infrastructure and emergency response."    http://psb.vermont.gov/sites/psb/files/orders/2010/7658FinalOrder.pdf 


In September 2010, VELCO was also in the midst of its regulatory offensive to get its project permitted.  In places like St Albans they had no problem, but in Wells, those Russian artists really didn't want to live just 60 feet from a newer, larger antenna radiating who knew what amount of energy with who knows what effect on them and their two children.  This is a question the permitting bodies have yet to address. 


The artists went to court, but later agreed to withdraw the case.  VELCO went to the regional planning board, which decided not to make any recommendation, for or against the project. http://www.vermonttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/RH/20100921/NEWS01/709219925/-1/INSIDERGUIDE02 


Then in October, still without permits but apparently with agreement with Felix and Olga, VELCO sent its drilling truck on its ill-fated mission up the steep mountain road.  Just before it reached the summit, the truck's drive shaft snapped.   The driver reacted quickly, turning the wheel to steer the truck off the road.  But the truck flipped backwards as a crew member on the roof jumped to safety, hurting his knees in the process.  


The truck then rolled over twice, landing on its back, wheels in the air.  The driver, trapped in the safety cage inside the cab, was largely unhurt though hanging upside down.  Also unhurt were the passengers in the pickup truck that was following with Felix and a VELCO lawyer among the passengers. 


At first the VELCO people wouldn't call 911.  After awhile the artists called and the state police came, as did an ambulance for the crew member with the damaged knees.  The artists also shot video of the scene and shared it with a Burlington TV station.  http://www.wcax.com/global/story.asp?s=13360549 


Since then, developments have been much less dramatic as they slowly proceed through regulatory bodies and the media.  But in July this year, the process reached a critical point when the Public Service Board issued a decision giving VELCO everything it asked for.  Felix and Olga said they will appeal the decision.  



But they largely represented themselves before the Public Service Board, feeling they could not afford an attorney.  As a result, they presented little evidence.  The PSB hearing officer criticized them in unusually personal terms in her decision. http://psb.vermont.gov/sites/psb/files/orders/2012/2012-8/7752%20FinalSigned.pdf 


The PSB accepted the VELCO appraisal of the whole 10 acre property, of which only about an acre or so is level.  The appraisal valued the property at $425,000 and calculated that VELCO would take a quarter of an acre, worth $4,500.  The appraisal also calculated the value of the property would be diminished by $21,750 once the new, 80, higher frequency tower was in place.  Based on these calculations, the PSB awarded the artists a total of $25,750 in compensation, payable on or before August 13. http://psb.vermont.gov/sites/psb/files/orders/2012/2012-8/7752%20FinalSigned.pdf 



Rate It | View Ratings

William Boardman Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Vermonter living in Woodstock: elected to five terms (served 20 years) as side judge (sitting in Superior, Family, and Small Claims Courts); public radio producer, "The Panther Program" -- nationally distributed, three albums (at CD Baby), some (more...)
Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Writers Guidelines

Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEd News Newsletter
   (Opens new browser window)

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Nuclear Perceptions Fight Reality

Fukushima Spiking All of a Sudden

Fukushima Meltdowns: Global Denial At Work

Vermont Asks: "What the Fukushima"?

Military-Industrial Complex Owns Vermont

Accountability in Vermont?

To View Comments or Join the Conversation:

Tell A Friend