More arrests in Otis State Forest as Standing Rock demonstrators join pipeline protest

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By Monday, Jul 31 News  5 Comments
Rene Theberge
Protesters and musical performers march along Cold Spring Road in Sandisfield during a public rally on Saturday.

Sandisfield — In yet another episode in the long and continuing saga of fossil fuel infrastructure protest in southern Berkshire County, 22 more protesters – including one who had previously protested at Standing Rock in North Dakota – were arrested Saturday in the Otis State Forest where they were demonstrating against the 13-mile Connecticut Expansion Project natural gas pipeline.

The movement appears to have taken a more aggressive turn as the Sugar Shack Alliance, a nonprofit resistance group, had planned a large public rally and picnic at Lower Spectacle Pond. But up Cold Spring Road at four locations near the easement for Kinder Morgan’s $93-million pipeline extension, multiple incidents occurred that resulted in the arrests.

A pair of protesters make themselves at home on the easement, preventing construction activity. Photo: Rene Theberge

A pair of protesters make themselves at home on the easement, preventing construction activity. Photo: Rene Theberge

At the Lower Spectacle Pond picnic area, about 80 people gathered at 10 a.m. not only to protest the pipeline but support “the need for solidarity against fossil fuel infrastructure across the country,” said Sugar Shack spokesperson Abby Ferla.

The speakers at the picnic included Sue Baxter, a Sandisfield landowner whose property abuts the easement; Anthony Melting Tallow and Karyn Redwolf; Martha Klein from the Connecticut Sierra Club; and Ian Jackson of the Green Party. Singer-activists Sarah Stockwell-Athen with the Hoping Machine and Ben Grosscup performed.

Melting Tallow tried to put the Berkshire County pipeline resistance into perspective, opining that hundreds of years of “extractive industries” have “devastated” his community near the Tar Sands in Alberta, Canada. “We are connected in that way, we are connected through the water,” Ferla quoted him as having said. “There are many front lines. It is all one front line. It is all one pipeline. It’s all one mindset, but we’re bigger than that, because life is bigger than that. Creation is bigger than that. Love is bigger than that.”

While Melting Tallow gave his speech, 22 of his activist colleagues hiked through fields and woods to emerge at four different points along the path of pipeline construction. As they arrived on the easement, they spread out picnic blankets over a mile-long stretch of the easement and hung banners that read “This is our protected state forest” and “Picnics Not Pipelines.”

These actions blocked construction access roads, surveying equipment and the laying of pipe for well over an hour before State Police arrived on the scene and began making arrests, Ferla said.

Activists from the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota were also present and contributed to the protests.

Massachusetts State Police director of media communications Dave Procopio told The Edge the demonstrators, all of whom refused orders to leave a restricted construction area, were charged with trespassing.

A state trooper pleads with protesters to stop blocking an access road for construction equipment in the Otis State Forest. Photo: Rene Theberge

A state trooper pleads with protesters to stop blocking an access road for construction equipment in the Otis State Forest. Photo: Rene Theberge

“The arrests were made during the late morning and early afternoon and were made peacefully and without resistance, similar to other trespassing arrests made at the pipeline project in recent weeks,” Procopio said.

Police said the arrestees were transported to a Berkshire County Sheriff’s Department facility for booking. As with previous protest arrests, the defendants are expected to be released on personal recognizance pending a court appearance that has not yet been set.

Sugar Shack member Erik Burcroff, who was himself arrested, told The Edge that one of those arrested, Micah L. Carpenter-Lott, 24, of Riverton, Wyoming, had previously protested at Standing Rock. Climate change activist Karyn Redwolf of Sutton has also protested at Standing Rock, though she was not among those arrested by state police on Saturday.

In addition, two men who identified themselves as Standing Rock water protectors were present at the public rally at Lower Spectacle Pond. They did not venture out onto the easement locations and so were not arrested.

“They had been told about the rally by a Sugar Shack member but their presence was a surprise to most of the organization,” Ferla told The Edge. “Many of us were inspired by what happened at Standing Rock, particularly the Standing Rock tribe’s commitment to nonviolence.”

“It is our job to delay and impede the pipeline for as long as we can,” said Kevin Young, one of the arrestees. Like the speakers at the rally, Ferla said Young saw the day’s events as part of a much larger context.

“I think of this pipeline in terms of its global impacts as much as its local ones,” Young added. There are people suffering more than we are [from the impacts of fossil fuel infrastructure]. The least we can do is to be in solidarity with them.”

Burcroff said State Police were very professional and nonconfrontational, as they have been throughout the months-long ordeal, and that the entire arrest process was “very orderly” – even cordial at times.

Burcroff said, at one point, he was sitting on a rock at the easement with his “Don’t Tread on Me” flag draped over his knees. A state trooper asked him for the flag, folded it up neatly and gave it back to him.

Pipes that will carry natural gas are stacked up on the easement. Photo: Rene Theberge

Pipes that will carry natural gas are stacked up on the easement. Photo: Rene Theberge

“I thanked him,” Burcroff said. “I felt this was very interesting.”

At the end of the rally, participants were invited to a concert and potluck lunch. Musical guests for the day included Bomba de Aquí, Tom Neilson, Ben Grosscup, the Expandable Brass Band, Dave Lippman, Amy Nicolin, and Sandy Pliskin. Ferla said many of them “donated their time and talents to the cause.”

Elizabeth Caretti-Ramírez, a Sugar Shack Alliance member from Holyoke and lead organizer of Saturday’s rally, tried to sum up the day.

“We brought together people from across our region, celebrated our resistance and educated each other,” Caretti-Ramírez said. “I left with a feeling of enormous hope.”

Sugar Shack is trying to stop ongoing operations to clear almost 30 acres of publicly owned forest to make room for the controversial natural gas pipeline expansion to Connecticut that many of its detractors insist is unnecessary and environmentally destructive.

These most recent arrests follow 18 others were made in three separate incidents on May 2, with six more arrested May 6 and eight on June 24.

A series of hearings has been held over the last three months in Southern Berkshire District Court on the charges of the accused, which Judge Paul Vrabel has reverted from criminal trespassing to civil. But no determination has yet been made on the guilt or innocence of those charged.

Many of the Sugar Shack protesters, most of whom are from outside Berkshire County, have been a near-constant presence at the site, even going so far as to erect a “Thoreau Cabin Pipeline Barricade” on the abutting property of Baxter, who is a member of Sandisfield Taxpayers Opposing the Pipeline.

Last week, Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, visited the site and spoke to supporters of the resistance effort. Hinds complained about possible violations of Article 97 of the state constitution that protects public lands and he attacked both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

List of those arrested provided by Massachusetts State Police:

  1. Eesha D. Williams, 42, of Dummerston, Vermont
  2. Catherine N. Woolner, 66, of Northfield
  3. Benjamin J. VanArnam, 30, of Easthampton
  4. Stephen J. Stoia, 69, of Northfield
  5. Edward D. Stockman, 73, of Plainfield
  6. Dennis P. Carr, 62, of Cummington
  7. Erik W. Burcroff, 61, of Plainfield
  8. Micah L. Carpenter-Lott, 24, of Riverton, Wyoming
  9. Joan L. Levy, 65, of Pelham
  10. Steven D. Botkin, 62, of Pelham
  11. Fergus R. Marshall, 68, of Chicopee
  12. Martin H. Urbel, 74, of Northampton
  13. Rema Loeb, 84, of Plainfield
  14. John K. Cohen, 79, of Northampton
  15. Mary C. Link, 64, of Ashfield
  16. Ronald Coler, 61, of Ashfield
  17. Esther Coler, 33, of Ashfield
  18. Nina Anderson Coler, 62, of Ashfield
  19. Carol Lewis, 74, of Amherst
  20. Alice McKusick, 35, of Colrain
  21. Patricia C. DeAngelis, 71, of Amherst
  22. Kevin Young, 32, of Northampton

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5 Comments   Add Comment

  1. John says:

    Ok, now this is just getting silly and wasting hard earned tax dollars with the repeat disobedient behavior.

    The courts need to throw the book at them and invoke significant jail time

    1. T Quinn says:

      You know what’s silly? Letting the dirty energy companies continue to run roughshod over the people of this country, land grab, and pollute with impunity. Building in more global warming with new infrastructure. Now THAT is silly!

  2. Laura says:

    Not one person listed is from Sandisfield or Otis. Apparently the locals aren’t as proactive as the out of towners.

    1. Steve Farina says:

      The locals probably realize the futility of the protests.
      That said, if Senator Hinds truly believes Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution is being violated, then perhaps he should be imploring the Governor to utilize the State Police to stop the destruction of State land, rather than arresting the protesters. Alternatively, the Governor could call up the National Guard.
      The truth is, none of these politicians care enough to take that kind of stand.

  3. nicholas12357 says:

    State regulations currently do not support towns’ and cities’ own bylaws and zoning laws regarding infrastructure, due to the fact that energy corporations have through their lobbyists, lawyers and politicians, re-written the state’s siting and construction laws since deregulation. Their projects are designed only to benefit the bottom lines of their financial statements for the benefit of their shareholders, and not geared towards addressing the wishes of the towns and residents whose lands they decimate. The projects are allowed to progress despite environmental objections, have questionable need, and are not overseen with any amount of due diligence.

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