Wendell man arrested for blocking coal train

  • Protesters from Wendell, including one man arrested, were present at a protest against the use of coal, in which they stood on train tracks to block a freight train in Ayer. Ayer Police Department

Staff Writer
Published: 12/10/2019 10:28:26 PM

AYER — A Wendell man was among a dozen people taken into custody after blocking a freight train in Ayer this past weekend.

Morgan Mead was arrested at 3:45 a.m. Sunday and charged with trespassing on railroad property, according to the Ayer Police Department.

He and others stood on the train tracks in protest of the use of coal. Specifically, the protesters were attempting to block the path of a coal-carrying train destined for the Merrimack Station, a power plant in Bow, N.H.

“Burning coal is harmful to the environment and dumps toxins on an already stressed ecosystem,” Mead said.

According to a statement from the Ayer Police Department, Ayer Police Sgt. John MacDonald was pulled away from the scene of a motor vehicle accident after receiving reports of people blocking a train by standing on the railroad tracks.

“On his arrival, Sgt. MacDonald found that there was approximately 15 to 20 environmental activists with protest signs blocking the path of an oncoming freight train,” the statement reads. “After refusing to leave the area, Sgt. MacDonald contacted officers from Groton, Harvard, Littleton, Shirley and the Massachusetts State Police (Devens barracks) to assist in taking the protesters who would not leave the tracks into custody.”

Mead and others were arraigned Monday at Ayer District Court. The charges were dismissed at the state’s request.

Others from Franklin County were present at the protest in Ayer, notably members of the Wendell State Forest Alliance, a protest group that tried unsuccessfully to stop a state logging project in the Wendell State Forest this past summer.

According to Wendell State Forest Alliance member Priscilla Lynch, the group chose to go to Ayer “in response to the extreme climate emergency.”

Mead, himself a member of the Wendell State Forest Alliance, said the “burning of coal puts carbon into the air,” and he chose to protest the coal train for similar reasons to protesting the logging of Wendell’s century-old trees, which sequester carbon from the air.

“The climate emergency must be attacked on many fronts,” he said.

According to Lynch, the same coal train was blocked by other activists in Worcester prior to arriving in Ayer, then blocked again in Hooksett, N.H.

The protests were coordinated by the Climate Disobedience Center, and a number of groups, including Extinction Rebellion and Sugar Shack Alliance, also took part, Lynch said.

According to New Hampshire Public Radio, more than 20 people were arrested at the three protest locations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. About two dozen were charged with misdemeanor trespassing, and two were charged with resisting arrest when they had to be removed by police after climbing a railway bridge in Hooksett, the outlet reports. Around 100 people protested in total, and the train was delayed by several hours.

The Concord Monitor reported that New Hampshire safety officials had a rescue boat in the Merrimack River in case anyone fell in the water, as well as a State Police helicopter on scene in Hooksett.

Merrimack Station is the largest coal-fired power plant in New England without a set retirement date. The plant has thus been the focus of climate activists who target the use of coal as fuel due to its emission of greenhouse gases.

In August, protesters dumped coal from the power plant in front of the New Hampshire State House, and protests happened on site at the plant in September.

Merrimack Station only operates a few weeks out of the year, during high energy usage periods in the winter when natural gas is diverted to heating and less available for power plants. According to the Concord Monitor, the plant is able to stay in business because it receives tens of millions of dollars in payments to guarantee it will be available when needed.

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.

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