Protesters stand in front of the Entergy Vermont Yankee Joint Information Center on Old Ferry Road in Brattleboro after entering the building, putting up
Protesters stand in front of the Entergy Vermont Yankee Joint Information Center on Old Ferry Road in Brattleboro after entering the building, putting up signs and spray painting the driveway, Monday afternoon. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer) (Zachary P. Stephens)
Tuesday December 13, 2011

BRATTLEBORO -- Call it a crime of opportunity.

Members of the Shut It Down Affinity Group only intended to picket the Vermont Yankee headquarters on Ferry Road on Monday.

But when they arrived there, they discovered the front doors had been propped open by workers repairing damage caused by an arson fire in September.

"We were definitely going to try the doors," said Hattie Nestel, of Athol, Mass., who said they came to the building "To keep doing what we're doing."

They filed into the building and taking their cue from the Occupy Wall Street movement, occupied the headquarter's board room.

On the pavement in front of the main entrance, the women spray painted "Arrest" and "No More Radiation."

A Windham County Sheriff's Deputy was the first to respond to the boardroom because the sheriff's office is providing, by contract, additional security for the location.

Sheriff Keith Clark said the women were asked a number of times to leave before they did so.

"The vast majority was reasonable," he said.

"Everyone was nice and calm," agreed Brattleboro Police Department Lt. Robert Kirkpatrick, who was called to the scene at about 11:30 a.m.

However, as the women were being ushered out of the building, several of the women spotted Larry Smith, director of communications for Yankee, and accused him of lying about radioactive discharges into the environment. They then burst into a chant of "Shame, shame, shame."

Smith had no comment.

On Aug. 30, several of the members of the group, who are all women, were arrested at the gates of the nuclear power plant in Vernon.

Some of them, who have been protesting the plant for 30 years, have been arrested a number of times either at the plant or the Ferry Road location. A few of the 11 women at Monday's protest were first-timers.

The women were cited for unlawful trespass, a misdemeanor.

A videographer and his crew, who have been documenting the travails of the power plant since tritiated water was found leaking in early 2010, followed the women into the conference room.

Upon being escorted out, they were threatened with arrest but instead were issued no trespassing orders and forbidden from ever again setting foot on Entergy property.

Deputy State's Attorney Steven Brown said that at least five members of the group have trespassing charges pending from the Aug. 30 protest. But until he receives the paperwork from the police department he doesn't know if any of those arrested Monday were those who have pending charges.

During their arraignments on the Aug. 30 citations, the state's attorney's office asked for a condition that they not be allowed to step on to Yankee property.

"But the court declined to give them that condition," said Brown.

However, he said, they did have conditions of release from the Aug. 30 protest.

Boilerplate conditions of release often state a defendant not get into trouble with the law between arraignment and court dates.

Those cited during the Aug. 30 protests are scheduled to appear in court early next year.

"If there are conditions of release, they may have violated them," said Kirkpatrick. If so, he said, police may also cite them with criminal contempt.

Nestel said she has no regrets about her frequent arrests, even though until the Aug. 30 protest the state's attorney's office has declined to press charges.

"This is the right thing to do," said Nestel. "It's too dangerous."

Marci Gagliardi, of Athol, Mass., said it may not appear so, but lots of people know about their protests. She said many people visit her antique shop to talk about the plant, offer support and get information.

Paki Wieland, of Northampton, Mass., who has been arrested a number of times for her participation in the protests, said she has gained inspiration from recent protests around the world, including in Greece against austerity measures and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Government money is being spent in ways that aren't beneficial to the general public, she said, and the evidence is as clear as the nation's infrastructure.

"There is a direct connection between federal dollars spent -- including on nuclear power -- and what we're not getting," said Wieland. "It's smoke and mirrors."

In a document handed out to the media, the members of the Shut It Down Affinity Group claimed they went to the headquarters building "to make a citizens' arrest of the directors and officers of the Entergy Corporation, which owns and operates the plant, for their heedless disregard of public health, public safety, and the right of the citizenry to hear the truth ... We find them guilty of crimes against all people within a wide radius of Vermont Yankee."

The group accused Entergy of lying to the public about radioactive leaks and emission, of paying its executive officers exorbitant salaries "for fostering a dangerous environment full of leaks and lies," of "whitewashing" the health consequences of the plant's radioactive emissions, and of "skimping on safety precautions ..."

It also accused Entergy of "flagrantly disregarding and violating" agreements with the state that gave the state the power to refuse continued operation of the plant past March 2012.

Cited were Paki Wieland, Frances Crowe and Susan B. Lantz of Northampton, Mass., Hattie Nestel, and Marcia Gagliardi of Athol, Mass., Nina Swaim, of Sharon, Anneke Corbett of Florence, Mass., Jean Grossholtz of South Hadley, Mass., Ellen Graves of West Springfield, Mass., Cate Woolner of Northfield, Mass., and Sandra Boston of Greenfield, Mass.

MaryAnn Palmieri, of Salem, Mass., and Ruth Hooke, of Athol, Mass., were issued no-trespass orders.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.