Dozens help build cabin in defiance of pipeline route Ashfield

  • Volunteers help Will Elwell build a cabin on the proposed pipeline route in Ashfield. Recorder Staff/Diane Broncaccio

  • Volunteers help Will Elwell build a cabin on the proposed pipeline route in Ashfield. Recorder Staff/Diane Broncaccio

  • The first wall goes up on a “civil disobedience” cabin that dozens of people help Will Elwell build directly on the planned Tennessee Gas pipeline route. Recorder Staff/Diane Broncaccio

  • Ashfield Selectboard member Todd Olanyk drives a peg into the post-and-beam cabin being built along the path of the proposed gas pipeline in Ashfield. Recorder staff/diane broncaccio

  • Joe Cutler of Ashfield and Oliver Hatch of Florence, up top, and timber framer Will Elwell with the small post-and-beam cabin they are intentionally building in the path of the proposed pipeline. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Timber Framer Will Elwell of Ashfield on the site of the pipeline protest cabin. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Volunteers help build a post-and-beam cabin along the path of the proposed gas pipeline in Ashfield. Recorder staff/diane broncaccio

  • Volunteers help build a post-and-beam cabin along the path of the proposed gas pipeline in Ashfield. Recorder Staff/Diane Broncaccio

Recorder Staff
Published: 3/16/2016 10:20:54 PM

ASHFIELD — A post-and-beam cabin the size of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond home went up Wednesday as an act of civil disobedience, but the timber-frame structure is sanctioned in Ashfield, where Selectboard members, who oppose the Northeast Energy Direct gas pipeline, helped Will Elwell and a few dozen volunteers build the cabin Wednesday morning.

By Wednesday afternoon, the new structure was to have a building permit on it — to show that the Walden-like cabin straddling the proposed pipeline route is legal.

“We’re here doing our job — to oppose the pipeline,” said Selectboard member Ron Coler, who pointed out that the town adopted a resolution to oppose the controversial pipeline last year. “Ashfield is second in (proposed) pipeline length only to Northfield,” said Coler.

Selectboard member Todd Olanyk added that this week, the board voted to ask annual town meeting voters to spend $10,000 to help in a legal fight, led by Montague, to oppose building a pipeline that runs through several Franklin County towns, going east to Dracut. Montague is the only Franklin County town with intervenor’s status to oppose Berkshire Gas Co.’s request to the state Department of Public Utilities to buy gas from pipeline proposed by energy giant Kinder Morgan. Last week, Gill and Northfield each allocated $5,000 to assist in this effort, to prove that the addition natural gas from Midwest fracking is not needed.

“It’s time to put our money where our mouth is,” he said.

Builder Will Elwell designed the cabin from hand-hewn barn beams donated by Nick Meyer of Conway, as a symbol of resistance to the pipeline.

“This is going to be a symbol of our discontent and our disappointment with the gas line company and their disrespect for us,” said Elwell, in a speech just before the first walls went up. He said the proposed pipeline route is to cross the road and run directly under the center of the cabin, “here, in the heart of the pipeline avenue,” he told the others who erected the cabin in the field.

“I’m hoping it will be a symbol of our hopes for stopping the pipeline,” said Elwell. “Henry David Thoreau wrote the book on ‘Civil Disobedience,’ and having the right to make our wishes known. There is some kind of disconnect with the system, which is allowing this pipeline to come right through.”

The group applauded landowner Larry Sheehan, who gave his neighbor Elwell permission to build the cabin on Sheehan land in the path of the pipeline.

“I’m 100 percent behind Will,” said Sheehan. “When Carol (Sheehan) and I bought this property 20 years ago, we had to agree to a covenant saying we would never build a permanent building on remaining land. We agreed and we never regretted it. It came as a rude awakening to know that, even though we agreed to keeping it (undeveloped), the Tennessee Gas Pipeline and (its parent) Kinder-Morgan didn’t feel any such restraint.”

Kinder Morgan is seeking Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval for the interstate pipeline and the power of eminent domain to take private property, much of it protected forest and farmland.

Elwell told the crowd that Sheehan has asked that the cabin on his property not become “an encampment” for anti-pipeline gatherings. But when asked if that would still hold true, should the pipeline authorities get permission to survey and build the pipeline, Sheehan replied: “In that case, call in the cavalry.”

“Refusal to allow surveying has been one of the most powerful deterrents we have,” said Jim Cutler, Ashfield’s solar energy coach and a vigorous pipeline opponent. “So many (landowners) have refused surveying that (pipeline proponents) don’t have enough information to file for their FERC permit.”

He said the state Department of Public Utilities duty is not to assist a corporation in making a profit, and said that residents should attend the March 30 DPU pipeline hearing in the Greenfield Middle School and submit comments to the state.

Pipeline opponents hope that thwarting Berkshire Gas plans to buy Kinder Morgan gas will bolster the argument the pipeline is not needed. Berkshire Gas has enacted a moratorium on new customers, claiming it needs more supply.

Cutler, who formerly lived in Thoreau’s hometown of Concord, said he has publicized the cabin protest to parish members of the Unitarian Universalist Church there, in hopes of drawing support and attention from Eastern Massachusetts.

On Friday, an anti-pipeline march that begins in Windsor today is scheduled to come through Ashfield and to stop at the cabin before a walk continues into Shelburne Falls. The walk will end in Northfield on Sunday.

Please support the Greenfield Recorder's COVID-19 coverage

Thank you for your support of the Recorder.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906


Copyright © 2019 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy