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Pipeline protests lead to more arrests

  • Private land owner, Susan Baxter, center, explains tree-cutting concerns to Sugar Shack Alliance protesters Saturday in Sandisfield. SUBMITTED PHOTO/WILL ELWELL



For The Recorder
Tuesday, May 09, 2017

SANDISFIELD — Climate activists continue to stand their ground against preliminary construction of a pipeline in the Otis State Forest.

Police arrested six more over the weekend, including five from the Pioneer Valley. All members of the Sugar Shack Alliance, the six follow 18 arrested last week.

Arrested Saturday by Massachusetts State Police were: Montserrat Archbald, 53, of Whately; Carole Horowitz, 66, of Amherst; Elizabeth Caretti Ramirez, 47, of Holyoke; Nastasia V. Lawton-Stickler, 33, of Leominster; Lundy Bancroft Jr., 57, of Florence; and Christopher C. Sabo, 31, of Ashfield. They face trespassing and disorderly conduct charges.

Activists say it is their goal to hinder tree-cutting in advance of construction of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. pipeline, which they staunchly oppose. The company is a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan.

“We were able to halt construction for two hours, which feels significant,” Abby Ferla, a spokeswoman for the alliance, said Monday of peaceful protests over the weekend. “Even if all the trees are cut our main goal is to stop this pipeline.”

Kinder Morgan spokesman Richard Wheatley declined to comment on the arrests but said Monday tree clearing continues as planned.

“Tennessee Gas is continuing work on its right-of-way in the Otis State Forest for the Connecticut Expansion Project and is diligently seeking to adhere to permit and other conditions associated with state and federal approvals,” he said in a statement.

He also said “Tennessee Gas respects the rights of individuals to engage in peaceful and lawful protests,” but asks that “work areas are not disturbed or damaged.”

State police said in a statement it is their job to protect the rights of all involved.

“The protesters walked into restricted areas and did not leave when ordered to do so. They were arrested without incident,” they said. “The MSP’s mission at the site is to ensure security for, and the protection of the rights of, all involved parties, including the project team, demonstrators, and private and public property owners.”

Ferla said the activists stand in solidarity with Sue Baxter, a Sandisfield resident whose property directly abuts the pipeline construction area. Baxter has been sitting on the edge of her property to monitor activity and — she hopes — limit the number of downed trees.

Still, Baxter said Monday afternoon that the day’s tree-clearing reduced the timber count along her property by about 75 percent.

Ferla said the alliance, devoted to activism in the face of “impending climate disaster,” disputes the need for the pipeline. Protesters subject themselves to arrest not because they want to be taken into custody — Lawton-Stickler, among those arrested, is five months pregnant — but because they find it necessary to protect state resources and limit fossil fuels.

“No one wants to get arrested,” Ferla said. “People are willing to get arrested to stand up for what they believe in, but it’s certainly not what we want.”

Those arrested Saturday were transported to the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Department in Pittsfield for booking and released later that day. They are all expected to appear for arraignment in Great Barrington District Court later this month.

Meantime, Baxter said she appreciates the support since she and other nearby landowners have been deprived of due process. She said they filed an appeal with the Federal Energy Regulatory Control Commission more than a year ago.

“Since they are still currently considering it, we can’t go to a different venue,” she said. “Sometime after this pipeline is already in the ground, they will rule on the merits of our appeal.”

Baxter and the activists argue there is no need for the pipeline — at least not one as large, and one that loops through land they say should be protected for historical and conservation reasons.

Katie Eiseman, director of the Mass Pipeline Awareness Network for the Northeast and a non-practicing attorney, said regulatory approvals were granted based on a plan made by Connecticut officials years ago — before new information emerged about the “potent” greenhouse effects of methane gas.

“It’s making a lot of people question this idea that natural gas is preferable,” she said. “It’s just another fossil fuel, when push comes to shove.”

Eiseman said this stretch of pipeline went largely unnoticed until after its approval in March 2016, since most officials and activists alike were focused on the now-defunct Northeast Direct Pipeline.

“At the time NED was capturing attention, and lost on people was this important precedent — allowing a pipeline in a state forest,” she said. “It’s only four miles of pipeline, but it brings almost every issue you can imagine about interstate gas pipelines.”