The official rulings are starting to pile up against Felix Kniazev and Olga Julinska is their fight to keep the Vermont Electric Power Co. from expanding a cell tower on the couple’s mountaintop home in Wells, but it hasn’t kept them from continuing to fight.
The latest hearing was the final ruling from the Vermont Public Service Board, the quasi-governmental body that oversees the state’s utilities. In it, the board again ruled in favor of Velco, granting the company access to the existing tower, rights of way through the property on top of the mountain and the right to expand the power.
“The PSB is rubber-stamping everything,” said Kniazev. He and Julinska are now launching an appeal in civil court in Rutland, trying to get a jury trial for their case.
The couple has also joined forces with opponents of large-scale wind projects, Green Mountain Power’s new “smart grid” wireless metering program, the attempt to add chloramine to Rutland’s water and foes of Green Mountain Power’s recent takeover of Central Vermont Public Service.
The threads tying all these cases together, said Kniazev, are the prohibitive cost for an individual trying to fight the system and the unaccountability of the PSB. The board is appointed by the governor, not elected directly.
Event set for Aug. 25
Kniazev and Julinska will host “Mountaintop Justice,” an event to support the suit against the PSB On Saturday, Aug. 25.
The event will include a rally from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and art, performances and live music until dusk. It will be held on Northeast Mountain, 201 Butts Hill Road in Wells, Vt.
Those expected to attend include Sens. Bob Hartwell and Bill Carris, Rep. Cynthia Browning, Annette Smith, Wendy Rae Woods, Steven Howard and others. Additional speakers will include Ed Morrow of Northshire Bookstore, Ed Friedman, who was involved in successful Smart Meters litigation in Maine and Rep. Andrea Boland of Maine.
There will be live music and camping and food by Trolley Stop. For further information call 802 779-6038 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A step too far
For Kniazev and Julinska, emigres from Russia who have been working together since 1999 under the rubric of the Art Department, with studios in Boston and Wells, the latest PSB is a step too far. He says the board granted two rights of way for power lines to and from the cell tower, which would overlap the existing power line for the couple’s studio and home, plus a 60-by-60 foot easement for the tower, expanded from the original 25-foot radius, plus permits a generator and two buildings, one for the generator and one for a cooling plant, 24/7 access and putting up any number of towers of whatever height the company sees fit.
It’s not like the site is the only mountaintop VELCO had at its disposal, Kniazev said. The company wanted it simply because it was partly developed, which made it the cheapest and easiest option. Combined with the state government’s expressed desire to fast-track cell towers, and Kniazev feels like the deck is stacked against him.
For example, the tower is currently powered by the line that serves the couple’s home and studio, which Kniazev said is illegal. It’s not sufficiently grounded, and he does not have a permit to “submeter” electricity, which is required before a homeowner can forward on power to another customer. But when he tried to shut the power off, the PSB denied his request.
Now, he said, the surveyors have been through to mark off the land granted to VELCO by the board. There is only about an acre of relatively level ground at the site, and when the survey stakes were finally placed, Kniazev can’t even get from his house to his car without crossing VELCO’s right-of-way.
Kniazev and Julinska have been fighting for two years, and they hope that with the help of groups like Vermonters for a Clean Environment and politicians like Sen. Carris that they might have a chance in court.
But it’s been a difficult and expensive proposition, going up against all the experts and lawyers on retainer for the utility companies.
“The average citizens have no choice,” he said. “They can’t afford it.”