(Host) The company that operates the Vermont electric grid wants to use a mountaintop in Rutland County as part of a statewide communications network.
But the landowners are resisting the plan. So the Vermont Electric Power Company now wants a condemnation order that would allow it to build the project over their objection.
VPR’s John Dillon has more.
(Host) VELCO has been locked in a legal dispute with a pair of artists who own a unique mountaintop home in Wells, in southwestern Vermont.
The property offers stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding hills and valleys. Olga Julinska and Felix Kniazev – who are originally from Russia – had hoped to use the place for an art school.
But its high-elevation location also makes it ideal from VELCO’s standpoint. The transmission utility wants to build an 80-foot microwave tower for the company’s radio network.
VELCO lawyer Leslie Cadwell told a Public Service Board hearing officer why the company wants access to the property.
(Cadwell) "Through the condemnation we’re looking for additional space to enclose the tower and equipment building compound, to ensure there’s adequate room to maintain the facility within the fenced-in area after it’s built."
(Dillon) Cadwell said the project should not interfere with the landowners’ use of the mountain. But that’s not how Olga Julinska sees it.
(Julinska) "We believe that they’re taking over the property. There’s not going to be any more value in terms of a residence or a business that we have. This is not just a house, but our business is here as well. We’re not going to be able to live or work on the mountaintop anymore."
(Dillon) Rob Woolmington is Julinska’s lawyer. At the Public Service Board hearing, he did not contest VELCO’s use of the condemnation procedure. But Woolmington says his clients do want to be compensated for their loss.
(Woolmington) "It’s putting a large microwave facility aimed close to their house. And it’s just not consistent with residential use. And in this proceeding, effectively, VELCO is acknowledging that they’re asking for many more rights than they already have. And now they’re asking that these be condemned. And the question ultimately will be, if VELCO is successful in condemning those rights, what’s the impact on the property?"
(Dillon) Woolmington says the PSB case will determine what the landowners are entitled to get paid.
VELCO spokesman Kerrick Johnson says there’s clearly a public benefit to the project. He says the radio network is needed so the company can quickly communicate with line crews around the state.
(Johnson) "This has been, always has been, and will continue to be about money, not about the need for the project. So now we have that clear. So that’s good. In a way that’s progress. At least now we know what we’re talking about."
(Dillon) Johnson says VELCO will try to settle with the landowners but also has to be responsible to ratepayers.
For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.