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Updated Jan. 11, 2014 with news and information related to the case.
Vermonters who are dealing with increasingly aggressive corporations are inspired by the jury verdict awarding Felix and Olga $1 million for the lost value in their home. Scroll down for the complete audio record of the case, plus two videos and a magazine article that tell their story. Here is the website to their art business http://artdep.com/
This article from Vermont Magazine was entered into the record, and shows what Felix and Olga were doing before VELCO came and destroyed their lives. http://www.artdep.com/images/about/VermontMagazine_Story.pdf
DEC. 31, 2013
VELCO ASKS FOR A NEW TRIAL IN PROPERTY DISPUTE
VELCO seeks new trial
By Brent Curtis
staff writer | December 27,2013
staff writer | December 27,2013
A Vermont utility recently ordered by a Rutland jury to pay $1 million to a former Wells family is asking the judge who presided over the case to override the verdict or grant a new trial.
Less than two weeks after jurors awarded Olga Julinska and Sergei Kniazev $100,000 in compensation and $900,000 in punitive damages, the Vermont Electric Power Co., or VELCO, filed a motion in Rutland civil court to overturn the verdict because the central issue should have been decided by a judge, not a jury.
During the course of a five-day trial, jurors heard about a new communications tower the utility built on an easement next to the home where the couple and their four children lived atop Northeast Mountain in Wells.
While a radio tower already stood on the site when the couple paid $390,000 for the home in 2007 — and had stood there since the 1980s — the new tower installed by VELCO in fall 2012 was wider and had the capacity to emanate what the family argued were dangerous levels of microwaves.
In addition, the certificate of public good granted to VELCO by the state Public Service Board allowed the utility around-the-clock access to the family’s home.
During the trial, the family argued that VELCO had rendered their property worthless and uninhabitable — the Russian immigrants and their children left the home and moved to Boston before construction on the new tower began.
VELCO argued that the new tower wasn’t much different than the old one in terms of its dimensions or impact on the rest of the property. The utility argued that $25,000 was fair compensation for its use of the property.
In the motion for a new trial or amended judgment, Burlington attorney David Boyd, representing VELCO, argued that Judge William Cohen should have decided issues surrounding the easement and that the case didn’t belong in front of a jury.
“The Vermont Supreme Court recently affirmed the interpretation of ‘the scope of [an] easement as a matter of law’ rejecting an argument that the (lower) court ‘should instead have submitted it to the jury,’” Boyd wrote.
Boyd also argued that jurors were given confusing instructions before they deliberated. In particular, he said, it wasn’t made clear to the jury that the dimensions of the easement and almost all of the allowed uses it granted were in place when the couple bought the property. At that time, the easement and an older radio tower were under private ownership.
VELCO bought the tower and the easement in 2009.
VELCO Vice President Kerrick Johnson said this week the utility wants to reargue its points to Cohen and may appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court.
“It’s not so much an argument we’re raising with the jury as it is a matter of law and the scope of the inquiry and what the jury was allowed to consider,” Johnson said.
While VELCO did expand the existing easement through the use of eminent domain, Johnson said the 400 square feet of land taken through that process didn’t change the rights granted through the old easement regarding microwave communications or access to the property.
The Manchester attorney representing the family said he would soon file an objection to the utility’s new request.
“We’ll respond the same way we did during the trial,” Robert Woolmington said. “The judge rejected this same argument before the trial and during it. We expect he’ll reject this one too.”
Reached by phone this week, Julinska said the utility’s latest motion wasn’t a surprise but was a disappointment.
“They’ve been so heavy-handed all along that I didn’t expect them to accept things, but I do think it’s arrogant to say the jury didn’t know what it was doing when it made it’s decision,” she said. “They heard all about the easements for five days and both sides presented their case very clearly.”
“We’re committed to fighting this thing to the end,” she added.
KNIAZEV & JULINSKA: VELCO PASSING THE BLAME
Editor’s note: This commentary is by Felix Kniazev and Olga Julinska of Boston.
DEC. 26, 2013
It’s curious to see VELCO, a private corporation worth over a billion dollars, lament over a jury’s decision on a compensation award due from condemning our property in Wells. VELCO now threatens to pass its cost of this legal dispute over to the ratepayers and invites everyone’s indignation at this outcome. It seems that VELCO is implying that it’s either the jury’s or the landowners’ fault that the electric customers may be on the hook for these extraordinary expenses.
Similarly, VELCO’s lawyers spent the entire trial insinuating we were to blame for this condemnation because we just wouldn’t hand over our rights. VELCO’s idea of a “collaborative process” is the landowner agreeing to everything VELCO says.
We never wanted their project on our mountaintop. All we wanted was to be left in peace. Instead, we had to engage in four legal proceedings and now may be facing a fifth – VELCO’s appeal of the jury’s decision. While VELCO can pass its costs to someone else and will do so, what about us? What about other landowners whose properties are being destroyed by utility projects? How are they supposed to finance years of legal struggle that they are unwillingly sucked into?
There is a wide disconnect between how the utilities view the impacts of their projects and what those impacts really are. The jury’s award last week was 40 times greater than what VELCO self-elected to pay for the property rights it extracted by force from us with the help of the state. That speaks for itself. It’s time for the utilities to realize that in addition to being good stewards of ratepayers’ dollars they must also be fair to the landowners whose properties make it possible for them to serve the public in the first place and make that 10 percent a year profit. Without those landowners there’d be no VELCO. We hope that VELCO’s new CEO, Thomas Dunn, starting on the job this month, will learn a valuable lesson from this case and change the way they are conducting business.
VELCO MULLING APPEAL TO $1 MILLION AWARD TO FORMER WELLS COUPLE IN CELL TOWER DISPUTE
Consumers pay for Velco’s errors
I read in this morning’s Rutland Herald, Velco’s vice-president Kerrick Johnson’s response to a jury awarding $1 million to the Julinska-Kniazev family by saying, “It’s electric costumers who will pay for all of this.”
I believe it is arrogance of this kind that got Velco into such a mess in the first place.
Instead of the people of this state paying for this company’s mistakes, have Mr. Johnson simply put it on his credit card.
Perhaps a smidgen of respect for our system of justice, for the citizens of Vermont, for this family and what you’ve put them through for three-and-a-half years, is in order.
He may be arrogant and bone-headed, but at least Kerrick Johnson speaks the unvarnished truth: We will pay for all of your bad decisions.
Isn’t that a nice gift?
Precedent-Setting Smart Grid Verdict: Jury Awards Vermont Couple $1 mil for Microwave Taking of Their Mountaintop Home
Dec. 15, 2013
By Brent Curtis
A Rutland jury decided Friday that the $25,000 a Vermont utility was willing to pay for a transmission tower easement next to a mountaintop home in Wells was 40 times too low.
At the end of a five-day trial in Rutland civil court, jurors awarded Olga Julinska and Sergei Kniazev $1 million for impacts to their home at the top of Northeast Mountain where the Vermont Electric Power Corp., known as VELCO, built a communications tower that the couple said deprived them of their property rights and placed the health of their children at risk.
“It made our property worthless,” Julinska said of the home she and Kniazev paid $390,000 for in 2007. “It completely changes the character of the property. Before, it was a very private place … now it’s gone.”
A radio tower of roughly the same height as the VELCO tower was on the property when the couple bought it.
But that structure wasn’t as broad as the new tower and the previous owners of the tower weren’t granted access to their property 24 hours a day.
During the trial, Julinksa testified that she and her family abandoned the home before construction on the new tower started in 2012 because of concerns about her children’s safety during work on the narrow mountain top. The Russian immigrants and their four children now live in Boston.
The couple’s attorney, Robert Woolmington, referred during opening arguments to an incident when a drill rig momentarily lost control climbing the steep slope as the impetus for the family’s concerns.
“Dangerous accidents with heavy equipment on their property was something they couldn’t allow their kids to be near,” Woolmington told the jury.
There concerns didn’t end with construction.
Microwave transmissions from the new tower presented a health risk, the couple argued, while a Vermont Public Service Board decision allowed for future development at the site.
“VELCO has their home completely surrounded by easements,” Woolmington said after the trial ended Friday.
But the utility contended that the tower wasn’t much different than the radio tower that had stood there since the 1980s and an appraiser hired by the company testified that $25,000 was fair compensation for an easement on the property and any impairments to the rest of the site.
Jurors decided differently, reaching a verdict in favor of the couple after only 2½ hours of deliberation.
“I think it indicates that a jury is quite capable of making a fair determination of an impact of a taking of property, and VELCO was not capable of doing it,” Woolmington said after the verdict.
VELCO Vice President Kerrick Johnson said Friday evening that the company may appeal the decision.
“We’re disappointed in the ruling and currently reviewing our options,” he said.
Contrary to assertions that the utility acted with ill intent, Johnson said VELCO chose the Northeast Mountaintop as the site for its new tower because it was the least harmful option.
He said the utility was forced to build a new tower, which provides communications between utility crews responding to power outages during disasters like Tropical Storm Irene, to comply with federal regulations.
“We had to build something and we thought selecting a site already developed with a tower on it was better than choosing an undeveloped site,” Johnson said. “We also would have had to develop two sites and would have had poorer coverage than this site.”
In addition, he said the cost to develop sites other than the one next to the family’s home would have cost more than $1 million.
“We need to maintain safety while being careful stewards of the ratepayers dollars,” he said.
If the jury verdict stands, he said it would be ratepayers who foot the bill.
“The people who pay are really the customers,” he said. “That’s the reality.”
But Julinska and Kniasev, artists who purchased the mountaintop home as much for its inspiring 360-degree view as for the privacy it afforded, said the jury verdict was a victory for themselves and every other Vermont resident bullied by an eminent-domain process that takes property for public good without always compensating property owners fairly.
“This shows that if you go and defend your rights people will hear you,” Kniasev said.
While the family has been living in a Boston apartment for more than a year, Kniasev said he and his wife hope to return to Vermont to a new home and create art that the landscape inspired.
“This victory gives us a chance to come back,” he said. “We still love the state and still love the people. What happened today proves that the people are on our side.”
Couple forced from Vt. mountaintop property by construction of utility tower gets $1 million
By DAVE GRAM Associated Press
December 13, 2013 – 5:13 pm EST
MONTPELIER, Vermont — A Russian immigrant couple who said they were forced from their Vermont home because of the construction of a utility communications tower was awarded $1 million by a jury on Friday.
Olga Julinska and Felix Kniasev said they were forced to abandon their $425,000 home atop Northeast Mountain in Wells by a communications tower built on their property by the Vermont Electric Power Corp., known as VELCO.
Vermont’s Public Service Board, which regulates utilities, awarded the couple less than $26,000, nearly 40 times less than the Rutland County jury said their claim was worth. The board said the value of the couple’s property was only partially diminished by the project.
The two said they moved in part because they worried about the health effects on them and their four young children of living so close to the antenna. They said their property was disturbed by a new power line to the project and VELCO had the right to put other communications companies’ antennas on the tower.
“We’re really pleased,” Julinska said after the verdict was announced at the close of a five-day trial. “We’re happy it’s over because it’s been three and a half years since we started” the litigation.
The couple, who are professional artists, had divided their time between their home in Vermont and one in the Boston area, but they have abandoned the Vermont property, Julinska said.
“We definitely will not live there anymore,” she said. “We moved out over a year ago. What we’re going to do with the property we have no idea. We don’t have a plan.”
VELCO Vice President Kerrick Johnson said the company was “extremely disappointed” and is considering an appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court.
Johnson said the new tower was part of a network constructed by VELCO to allow for communications between utility crews responding to storms and other emergencies. He said the Julinska-Kniasev property was considered preferable to alternative sites because their mountaintop property had contained the antenna of a local radio station since the 1980s.
Because of the design of the communications network, “we would have had to develop two mountaintops,” rather than just building on the Wells peak if that had not been allowed, Johnson said.
He added, “It’s electric customers who will pay for all of this.”
Audio record of court proceedings
Rutland Superior Court, Julinska & Kniazev vs. VELCO, December 9 – 13, 2013
4a. Video shown during Olga’s testimony: https://vimeo.com/80922664
7a. Video shown during Felix’s testimony: https://vimeo.com/16152467
Learn more about exposure to wireless frequencies
Resonance – Beings of Frequency movie on youtube
Desperately Seeking White Zone movie website
On Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, VCE and other plaintiffs filed this amended motion for Summary Judgment against the US Forest Service over their approval of a Special Use permit for Spanish Iberdrola’s big wind project. The memorandum of law in support of the motion can be read here: 2013-11-22 AMSJ FINAL
Plaintiffs move this Court for an order granting summary judgment in their favor.
II. SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT
The issue in this case is whether the U.S.D.A. Forest Service should be permitted to grant a permit to a private company to erect 15 wind turbines—eight of which are 415 feet high and seven of which are 399 feet high, and which measure 16-feet in diameter at their bases—on unspoiled ridgelines only 1.3 miles from the George D. Aiken Wilderness (Final Environmental Impact Statement [“FEIS”] at 148; A.R. 03C.00650; Supplemental Information Report (“SIR” at 2; A.R. 18F.00064; Appendix to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment [“App.”] at 26 and 128), when (a) the wind turbines would strip the Aiken of its wilderness characteristics, and (b) the Forest Service has failed to study adequately or fully disclose the harm to the environment the project would cause.
By MIKE FAHER / Reformer Staff
POSTED: 11/20/2013 03:00:00 AM EST
TOWNSHEND — Though Windham County does not yet host any commercial-size turbines, windpower continues to be a hot topic.
That’s why Vermonters for a Clean Environment chose Townshend to host the first of three public forums on the possible impacts of large-scale windmills.
The session is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday at Townshend United Church of Christ on the Townshend Common.
“We’re providing education about some of the issues that are of concern to people who live in areas where there are wind projects proposed,” said Annette Smith, executive director of the Danby-based organization.
“This is going to focus on noise, which is one of the big issues,” said Smith, who has been a vocal opponent of turbine development. “I spend most of my time dealing with noise issues.”
Wind giant Iberdrola Renewables last year received state permission to erect three meteorological-testing towers on privately-owned land in the towns of Windham and Grafton.
Those towers, depending on the weather data they generate, could lay the groundwork for Iberdrola to seek permission to build turbines in that area. A company spokesman has said no decision is expected until next year.
But even the test towers have spurred controversy, particularly in Windham, which prohibits commercial-scale wind turbines in its town plan.
Iberdrola has participated in some local windpower forums; one meeting last year in Windham featured company representatives alongside opponents including Smith.
But the Iberdrola won’t be present at Friday’s session, and that’s by design.
“I found it to be a pretty useless format,” Smith said of the pro-and-con setup of some previous meetings. “You couldn’t really zero in on anything.”
Instead, she says, “we’re going to bring some focus to this.”
By that, Smith means an emphasis on what turbine opponents believe are the “noise and health effects of industrial wind.”
The session will feature Stephen Ambrose, a Maine-based civil engineer who has testified before Vermont legislative committees regarding noise generated by turbines.
“He speaks in layperson terms, and he does it in a way that you can understand,” Smith said. “He can speak specifically to what the health effects are, because he has experienced them himself.”
Also expected to attend are residents who live near Groton Wind Farm in New Hampshire and Hoosac Wind Project in Massachusetts. Both were developed by Iberdrola.
“We’ve got a lot of cross-pollination with the various states going on,” Smith said.
The meeting will be hosted by state Sen. Peter Galbraith, a Townshend-based Democrat who has voiced opposition to large-scale turbine development.
Organizers said the meeting will include discussion of the Windham-Grafton test towers. Maps showing where those towers have been erected — along with potential turbine sites — will be distributed.
Vermonters for a Clean Environment plans two more windpower forums, though a location has not been finalized. The January session will focus on property values.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.