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Thoreau’s cabin rises again as pipeline barricade

“I want to raise the idea of conservation and civil disobedience. This is a symbol of our resistance and our resolve to stop this.” --- Sugar Shack Alliance member Will Elwell

Sandisfield — Nearly 175 years after Henry Thoreau wrote his celebrated treatise “Civil Disobedience,” arguing that acquiescence to the unjust will of government makes citizens agents of injustice, 17 Massachusetts residents assembled recently at the edge of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline easement in Otis State Forest to construct a “Thoreau Cabin” as part of their ongoing resistance to a $93 million pipeline expansion project, the nonprofit group Sugar Shack Alliance said in a news release.

Tamsen Merrill holds a portrait of Henry David Thoreau, painted by Jim Murphy. Photo: Will Elwell
Tamsen Merrill holds a portrait of Henry David Thoreau, painted by Jim Murphy. Photo: Will Elwell

The “Thoreau Cabin Pipeline Barricade,” which once sat in the right of way for the Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline (NED), has been reassembled on the property of Sandisfield land owner Sue Baxter, whose land abuts the pipeline easement and who has been expressing her own personal resistance to the pipeline since last Wednesday.

Crews working for the energy giant Kinder Morgan have been clear-cutting trees along the easement for over a week now, and it was Baxter’s understanding that they were not permitted to cut within 100 feet of a person not wearing safety equipment. Baxter has refused to leave her post for five days in which the trees on 100 feet of her remained standing — despite continued pressure from Kinder Morgan construction crews.

“I wanted to support that,” said Will Elwell, the farmer and timber framer from Ashfield who designed and built the cabin.

Monday morning, pipeline crews began felling trees within 100 feet of Baxter. Nevertheless, the protesters, all members of the Sugar Shack Alliance – an organization that has been actively opposing the Connecticut Expansion Project for the past year – began laying out the post-and-beam structure. Later in the day, the town of Sandisfield sent a representative to tell the activists that the building did not comply with zoning laws. The group decided to leave the structure in place.

“I am trying to invoke Thoreau’s attitude,” Elwell said, “I want to raise the idea of conservation and civil disobedience. This is a symbol of our resistance and our resolve to stop this. I am willing to sacrifice the cabin to emphasize our conviction that this pipeline should not be built.”

The Thoreau Cabin Pipeline Barricade built on Susan Baxter's land that is adjacent to Kinder Morgan pipeline project through Otis State Forest. Photo: Gregory Thorp
The Thoreau Cabin Pipeline Barricade built on Susan Baxter’s land that is adjacent to Kinder Morgan pipeline project through Otis State Forest. Photo: Gregory Thorp

“Though,” Elwell adds, “it would be as much of a shame to see this cabin destroyed as it has been to watch these trees come down…. especially considering this pipeline is completely unnecessary.”

The cabin was originally built in Ashfield in March 2016, where it stood for six months in protest of the then-impending, now-defunct NED pipeline. Elwell says that though his original intention was to block the NED pipeline, which was slated to run through his friend Larry Sheehan’s backyard, the cabin became a point of conversation, and educational tool, and a symbol for the community to galvanize around.

“Having the cabin there, it was like holding a vigil,” he said, “Larry would see people go there all the time, hang out, play music, and pray. It brought people together to talk about what we value in our communities, our Commonwealth, and our planet. Before this, I had never heard of fracked gas.”

The Connecticut Expansion Project, which runs across state-owned land, through protected wetlands, and over sacred Native American sites, has faced ongoing opposition in the last year through legal channels, public dissent, and, most recently, through acts of civil disobedience. This last week, 18 members of Sugar Shack were arrested in non-violent direct actions (NVDA) to stop construction.

And what would Thoreau have to say about all this?

“There will never be a free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.”

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