18 Arrested At Otis State Forest Protesting Kinder Morgan Pipeline Expansion

May 3, 2017

Massachusetts State Police arrested 18 people Tuesday who were attempting to block Kinder Morgan from cutting down trees in Otis State Forest. The activists were hoping to stop a natural gas pipeline expansion.

Activists hoping to halt the Connecticut Expansion Project recorded themselves.

Dineen O’Rourke of the Sugar Shack Alliance asked fellow member Susan Theberge if police were going to make arrests.

“There will be a warning and anybody after the warning they will arrest,” Susan Theberge says.

“There is one warning,” Dineen O’Rourke says.

“They said they would give a warning, and after that…,” Theberge says.

“And they are not going to leave?”

“They are not going to leave.”

“Great.”

They held that position for about three hours, blocking access roads in Otis State Forest where Kinder Morgan needed to travel for its natural gas pipeline expansion.

Eighteen protestors were arrested and charged with trespassing. They will be arraigned next week in Great Barrington District Court.

Ashfield Selectman Ron Coler was among them.

“It's time for local leaders to stand tall to the injustice. Article 97 is a very important constitutional article, and we need to do what the state and feds are not doing. This is our air we breathe, this is our constituency, these are our people. And we have to bring fossil fuel to an end, and this is in our backyard, and so that's why I have crossed the line,” Coler says.

The protests and the interactions between the Alliance and the police were peaceful. In fact, the Alliance says it has been working with state and local police for months.

Mary Link, one of the group’s police liaisons, says by the time police arrived Tuesday, authorities knew who to talk to, the members knew the law enforcement process and who was in jeopardy of going to jail.

“It is really helpful to have, to develop a relationship with your police,” Link says.

Massachusetts State Police spokesman Dave Procopio agreed.

“It carries more meaning when there are consequences and when the protestors accept those consequences," Procopio says. "So they let us know that was their intention and that their plan was to get arrested.”

“I think that especially when at this time in history when, you know, there have been really terrible clashes with police, I think our Massachusetts State Police were stellar citizens,” Link says.

The Alliance wants lawmakers to put a stop to Kinder Morgan’s pipeline project. U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, and Congressman Richard Neal, have sent letters calling on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to revoke its authorization for the pipeline. FERC said it would not comment on the letters.

Bob Barba from the Sugar Shack Alliance says the fight isn’t over.

“You know we are fully conscious that – you know we can hear the machines back there, we haven’t stopped cutting. So we weren’t able to do that. We are impeding work and slowing work as much as we can, hoping that legislative or regulatory or legal means will actually stop the work. So, time isn’t of the essence anymore. They are back out there cutting. But we hope to get back out there and slow things down again,” Barba says.

Donna Elwell from the Alliance says Kinder Morgan will also be withdrawing water from Spectacle Pond, “about a million gallons to flush and test the pipeline that they are putting in before they put the fracked gas through.”

The pond houses endangered species, and environmentalists are worried about potential toxins from the coating of the pipeline. Also…

“We feel in this time when draught has been hitting our communities, it is really, you know, unwise to be taking good clean water out of the pond,” Elwell says.

Kinder Morgan has installed erosion control devices to protect water bodies and streams in Otis State Forest near its 13-mile, $93 million proposed pipeline expansion project.

Kinder Morgan says the project would meet increased demand in the Northeast for transportation capacity for natural gas. The project will upgrade an existing system within New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. It would loop in Albany County in New York, Berkshire and Hampden Counties in Massachusetts, and Hartford County, Connecticut. 

Kinder Morgan says it respects the rights of individuals to engage in peaceful and lawful protests as long as work areas are not disturbed or damaged. Link, with the Alliance, says she doesn’t buy it.

“It is a bit of lip service, if you ask me,” Link says. “You know, the area they quote ‘set aside for us’, is a public area where people can be every day, all the time and have a legal right to be. And the access roads they have blocked off, is also public – it’s part of a public state forest. They haven’t set aside it. It isn’t in their jurisdiction. We can be there.”

Kinder Morgan subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company expects service to begin in November.