The barricade is a small wooden cabin-like structure modeled off the one 1800s transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau built near Walden Pond. A life guard chair stands directly in front of a fence set up by Tennessee Gas where onlookers can view the 100-foot wide path of cleared forest, now mostly dirt. On a recent afternoon two private security personnel sat in an off road vehicle watching silently on the other side of the barricade as a group of more than 30 people gathered to protest a pipeline being built piece by piece that would snake it’s way through the woods.
“It’s constant; It’s 24/7,” said Bob Barba, a pipeline protestor, referring to the surveillance of the area by private security for the pipeline. “Whenever we drove onto Cold Spring Road to get the lay of the land, we were tailed … There was an army of state police here.”
At Otis State Forest in Sandisfield, many are concerned with the Connecticut Expansion Project, which is cutting a 100-foot wide six-mile long path through the forest to make way for the gas pipeline. Thirty-two protesters were arrested earlier this year and 22 more people were arrested for trespassing on July 29. That brings the number to 54 people, most of whom are affiliated with anti-fossil fuel and non-violent protest group — the Sugar Shack Alliance.
Barba, who is media liaison for the Sugar Shack Alliance, said prior to the recent round of arrests that his organization’s stance on fossil fuels as an energy source is to “keep it in the ground.”
“The fossil fuels industry is just a dead-end industry at this point,” he said. “It feels like it’s one of those, ‘Let’s just milk the last little bit of profit.’ … Politically, you’re not allowed to ever suggest that we should scale back our use of energy because that sounds like we should lower our standard of living somehow. Those aren’t the same thing.”
Many consider the project controversial because the land that state granted an easement to use for the pipeline is protected from development under Article 97 of the Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ Land Disposition Policy. However, Berkshire Superior Court Judge John Agostin authorized a $640,000 settlement between the state and Tennessee Gas for a six-mile easement through Otis State Forest in February. The funds would be used to purchase a similar size of land given up for the easement.
“A judge in Berkshire Superior Court ruled that the Federal Gas Act overruled Article 97 in Massachusetts,” Barba said. “At a certain point, the Attorney General had decided to fight this and then the settlement was announced … [Attorney General Maura Healey] didn’t feel like it was the strongest place to make our stand … That’s been explained to us repeatedly. That still feels like a bad deal to us. I don’t want to give any impression that we accept that.”
Earlier that week, on July 24, State Sen. Adam Hinds, (D-Pittsfield) visited the Sugar Shack Alliance’s Thoreau Pipeline Barricade located on private property adjacent to where a section of the green pipeline is being installed piece by piece.
When asked if the state legislature could potentially block fossil fuel pipelines in the state, Hinds replied, “It’s very difficult when it’s a federal issue; a federal decision. And when we have [Article 97] enshrined in our constitution and that is disregarded it’s very challenging. Around this issue in particular, there was a very strategic legal strategy around if you want to continue to alleviate it at a judicial level if it’s only going to reinforce federal preemption in conservation lands in particular.”
Chris Goudreau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.