'Hail cannon' opponents decry its use


Tuesday, July 15
BENNINGTON — Opponents of a "hail cannon" at Southern Vermont Orchards converged at a Select Board meeting Monday evening to decry the ongoing use of the machine that one neighbor likened to torture.

Owner defends device

Orchard co-owner Harold Albiner was also present to share his side of the story, saying he hoped for "some fair solution." Albiner owns the orchard with his daughter, Lia Diamond.

Another local farmer, Keith Armstrong, spoke to the board in support of the hail cannon. Armstrong said he plans to use a propane fired cannon to keep birds off of his corn and sunflower crops.

"I don't know what the decibels are, but it's loud," Armstrong said. "I hope you'll be reasonable and I hope you'll let us try to keep feeding you."

Albiner said it has always been his dream to own an orchard, and he was doing his best to protect that dream. "I never thought that the day would come that I have to defend something that I love and cherish," Albiner said. "It's hard for me to stand here and defend something that I love."

Albiner is defending use of the hail cannon the orchard purchased for $30,000 in response to crop damage last year from hail storms.

The cannon ignites a charge of acetylene gas once every six seconds to create sonic booms when storms threaten. Proponents say that can break up the formation of hail storms.

"In the last three years, we've had repeated bouts of hail, the worst being last year when we got hit four times, and it did destroy everything," Albiner told the board. "Whether it's scientific or not, we're 100 percent convinced that the hail cannon works."

But sound tests conducted by the Bennington Police Department have concluded that the cannon is within the town's maximum allowed decibel level for daytime use, but exceeds the maximum allowable sound use between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

And opponents of the cannon told the board Monday that the cannon is a disruption to their lives. "It was also our dream to move to Vermont and enjoy our golden years. Our dream has recently been interrupted by a loud noise," said Cheryl Wehrspaun, who said she lives near the orchard, which is on Carpenter Hill Road.

Wehrspaun also said she does not "have much energy to get up and go in the morning" after being awake all night because of the cannon.

Albiner said the cannon has only been fired three times during the night time since the storm season began in April.

Gregory Connors, who resides on the corner of Carpenter Hill Road and Monument Avenue, said he erected a sign that reads "No Hail Cannon." He said a report conducted by the American Meteorological Society states there is no scientific proof that hail cannons work.

His wife, Abi Connors, said the cannon has frightened young children at her home, has gone off on some days for more than an hour at a time, and sometimes during what appears to be just a rain storm.

"Nobody wants the orchard to fail, but there has to be a reasonable compromise," she told the board. "I hope there is debate and I hope there is a way for people to get their frustrations out."

Albiner said the orchard uses Doppler radar and weather alerts to determine when to fire the hail cannon. "We don't arbitrarily fire off the cannon," he said. "I don't create the storms, God does."

Select Board Chairwoman Lodie Colvin said the board would take no action Monday because the issue was not warned on the meeting agenda. The board was to discuss the matter in executive session following the meeting.

Town Manager Stuart A. Hurd has previously indicated that the town is prepared to "take whatever action is deemed necessary" to enforce the town's noise ordinance. The orchard is not in violation of the ordinance during the day, however.


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