Twenty-four protesters affiliated with The Sugar Shack Alliance, a Northeast coalition that aims to disrupt the fossil fuel industry, have been arrested thus far at Otis State Forest in Sandisfield. Charges stem from allegations that protesters blocked access roads and barred tree cutters entrance onto an easement in the park — the site where 3.8 miles of natural gas pipeline is slated for construction as part of the $93 million Connecticut Expansion pipeline by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company.
The Massachusetts State Police stated in a press release that the protesters would appear in Great Barrington District Court on May 8.
Vivienne Simon, a 66-year-old Northampton resident and member of The Sugar Shack Alliance arrested on May 2, said prior to the court appearance that group members are planning on pleading not guilty for the crime of trespassing. The group started protesting the pipeline a year ago.
“We believe that we are, in fact, not guilty of trespassing,” she said. “This is our state forest. We also believe that we have an obligation and a duty to protect these lands and also to protect the planet for future generations. That’s more important than the need for this corporation to store their gas in a state where they’re not even selling it.”
The Sugar Shack Alliance is planning to protest the pipeline for the long-haul, Simon said. A staging ground, on a supporter of the alliance’s private land, abuts the state forest and pipeline easement. It’s the home base for protesters, and includes tents and information tables.
“We are a non-violent, direct-action trained, organization — highly trained in a long tradition of nonviolence and civil disobedience,” Simon said. “We are kind of the last line after all of the regulatory challenges and the legal challenges and the local challenges.”
More than 50 protesters with The Sugar Shack Alliance began protesting at 7 a.m. and, by 11 a.m. on May 2, 18 protesters were handcuffed by state police officers and brought to the county jail for processing, according to Donna Elwell, press release coordinator for the Sugar Shack Alliance.
Two groups of protesters were arrested, Elwell said. The first began a protest march at Lower Spectacle Pond in Sandisfield and nine activists created a chain barricade and blocked Access Road #3. At 8 a.m. a caravan of 12 work vehicles, two state police cruisers, and two private security cars arrived at the access road and by 8:15 the protesters had refused to let private security personnel access to the site. Those nine people were arrested at around 9:30 a.m, according to the press release.
The nine additional protesters at another access road were arrested at about 11 a.m., Elwell said.
In a second round of arrests, another six protesters were charged with trespassing on May 6 after temporarily stopping tree cutters at work at the state forest, according to The Berkshire Eagle.
Tennessee Gas was given an okay by a Berkshire Superior Court judge on May 9, 2016, to access the easement to build the pipeline.
In addition to the group opposing the expansion of fossil fuels, The Sugar Shack Alliance has also expressed concern about whether Tennessee Gas construction could harm sacred Native American sites on the edge of the forest. In a letter to Narragansett Indian Tribal official Doug Harris, Tennessee Gas representatives said the company will install protective fencing around the sites to protect them, The Berkshire Eagle reported.
Tennessee Gas, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, agreed to pay $640,000 in a lawsuit settlement against the state for the easement, according to The Berkshire Eagle. As part of the agreement Tennessee Gas also must pay a similar amount for environmental monitors and remedies, recreational upgrades; and replacement conservation lands — bringing the total to $1.2 million. The state sued Tennessee Gas after the company used federal utilities law to take the site by eminent domain.
“Sugar Shack Alliance formed when Kinder Morgan was going to run a pipeline from New York across the northern part of Massachusetts, through all of the little hill towns, and all of the … protected lands that are in between all of the little towns,” Simon said.
Kinder Morgan withdrew the application for its planned Northeast Energy Direct pipeline in May, 2016. The current version of the plan was approved in February of this year.
Simon said after the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline was defeated, The Sugar Shack Alliance decided to continue its work and to fight any gas pipeline planned in the Northeast.
Chris Goudreau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org