Otis State Forest pipeline protesters arrested and charged by State Police
EdgeCast video by Ben Hillman
Sandisfield — Eighteen protesters, including a western Massachusetts selectman, were arrested Tuesday morning (May 2) in two separate locations half a mile apart after more than 50 determined demonstrators blocked access roads in the Otis State Forest, preventing Tennessee Gas Pipeline company’s personnel and equipment from cutting trees in preparation for the construction of a controversial pipeline extension.
The protest operation went like clockwork. The protesters arrived as early as 6:30 a.m. By 7 a.m. members of the Sugar Shack Alliance were holding signs and a banner that read, “Save Our Forest Save Our Water. Save Our Earth. Unite. Resist. Protect.”
They then began a protest march at Lower Spectacle Pond against the plans of Tennessee Gas, a subsidiary of energy giant Kinder Morgan, to clear almost 30 acres of publicly owned forest to make room for a natural gas pipeline expansion. Tuesday’s protest follows another one on Friday and yet another last July .
By 7:30 a.m., nine activists had secured a chain across Access Road 3, chanting “This is What Democracy Looks Like” and “We are Stopping Pipelines, Never Turning Back.”
Half an hour later, a dozen work vehicles, two State Police cruisers and two private security cars arrived. At 8:15 a.m., the people of the chain barricade said “No” when asked by the State Troopers to let the private security personnel report for work on Access Road 3.
By 11 a.m. the Sugar Shack’s media coordinators had sent out an email blast announcing that nine protesters, including Ashfield Selectman Ron Coler, had been handcuffed, arrested by State Police and brought to the county jail by the Berkshire County Sheriff and then on to Southern Berkshire District Court in Great Barrington for a magistrate’s hearing.
“They were charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct,” confirmed Dan Sheridan, assistant superintendent at the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office, which booked them and brought them to Great Barrington. In all there were 18 people arrested, nine women and nine men, he said.
“The 18 protesters blocked two access roads and indicated that they wanted to be arrested,” State Police spokesman David Procopio said in a news release late Monday afternoon (May 1).
According to Procopio, protesters notified State Police beforehand that they would not comply with requests to disperse from the roads. After the protesters, in two groups of nine apiece, refused to comply with repeated requests to scatter, they were charged with trespassing. However, Procopio added, “All those arrested were respectful and peaceful.”
Will Elwell, one of the protesters at the scene, said his colleagues were arrested as a result of two separate resistance events in the forest. The first was what Elwell called a “hard blockade” with a metal chain stretched across the dirt road by protesters and locked across Access Road 3.
In addition, there was a soft blockade about half a mile away at Access Road 2, where protesters simply stood in the way of workers and equipment without a chain, Elwell said.
“The whole process was very orderly and State Police were very friendly and efficient,” Elwell said. “There were no conflicts of any sort. It was very well managed and very peaceful … police asked them to come forward and put handcuffs on them.”
Procopio, the State Police spokesman, said the accused are free until next Monday, May 9, when they are scheduled to reappear at Southern Berkshire District Court.
Kinder Morgan’s project has been mired in legal entanglements. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the project and gave the go-ahead for tree clearing and construction on April 12. Dubbed the Connecticut Expansion Project, the operation would extend the company’s existing natural gas pipeline infrastructure across three states – New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts – and see four miles of new underground pipeline. Both Massachusetts U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Springfield) challenged the FERC ruling and have asked the agency to revoke it, on the grounds that the agency did not have a quorum to adopt the ruling and furthermore that the market for natural gas had declined so much that the pipeline was unnecessary.
Expanding the existing pipeline corridor in Otis State Forest requires clearing of dozens of acres of forest that is now owned by the state, which purchased it for conservation and put it into protection under the Department of Conservation Resources (DCR) and the state constitution.
Theoretically, the Otis State Forest is protected under Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution, and was adopted in 1972. The article says “the people shall have a right to clean air and water … and the natural scenic, historic, and esthetic qualities of their environment,” with the fulfillment of these rights to be carried out through state parkland acquisition and conservation.
The Otis State Forest protesters base some of their opposition to the pipeline project on Article 97. In addition, the dissenters object to the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure on the grounds that it contributes to climate change.
“We are committed to using all the non-violent tactics at our disposal in our ongoing opposition to the Connecticut Expansion Project in Otis State Forest,” said Irvine Sobleman, a Sugar Shack member from Northampton who participated in today’s action.
“In the face of ongoing climate change, it is crystal clear that [our] responsibility [to protect the earth] requires us to reject all fossil fuel infrastructure construction, no matter how small or large the project may be.”
State Police have released the names of those arrested:
John K. Cohen, 79, of Northampton
Ronald R. Coler, 61, of Ashfield
Joan L. Levy, 64, of Pelham
Rema Loeb, 84, of Plainfield
Micky Mckinley, 72, of Montague
Asaph Murfin, 74, of Leverett
Harriet Nestel, 78, of Athol
James Perkins, 78, of Leverett
Amy Pulley, 61, of Cummington
Diane Sibley, 68, of Ashfield
Vivienne L. Simon, 66, of Northampton
Stephen J. Stoia, 69, of Northfield
Susan L. Triolo, 67, of Sunderland
Benjamin James Vanarnam, 30, of Easthampton
Lydia Vernon-Jones, 68, of Amherst
Russell Vernon-Jones, 70, of Amherst
Martin H. Urbel, 74, of Northampton
Kevin A. Young, 32, of Northampton