Pipeline opponents rally at Otis State Forest

By Heather Bellow, Berkshire Eagle
April 28, 2017

SANDISFIELD — They aren’t giving up. But their methods may change.

With tree cutting about to begin in Otis State Forest, and a federal agency silent over recent arguments it received to stop it, about 70 activists came here Friday to speak and sing in protest of pipeline plans and to rally in solidarity against expanding the fossil fuel industry.

“I cannot look in my granddaughter’s eyes unless I do everything I can to resist this,” said Susan Theberge, an organizer for Sugar Shack Alliance, a group devoted to supporting renewable energy and disrupting the fossil fuel industry with “non-violent” methods.

Members of the alliance are opposed to pretty much everything about the coming natural gas storage loop, and particularly that Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.— backed by federal law — wrestled an easement from the state in court despite it being state-owned forest protected by Article 97 of the state Constitution.

The Kinder Morgan subsidiary’s 13 mile, tri-state Connecticut Expansion Project will require expanding an existing pipeline corridor through 4 miles of Sandisfield — about 2 miles of state forest and 2 miles of private land.

The project was delayed about a year over everything from gas demand to water quality permit appeals. And the most recent attempts to stop construction, until several issues are ironed out, have met with a wall of silence from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

With last-ditch efforts failing, some activists say they will begin using something other than pen, paper, social media and voices.

“Out of necessity we may put our bodies on the line,” said Ron Coler, an alliance member who is also a Select Board member in Ashfield.

Coler told The Eagle he is serious about his possible act of nonviolent civil disobedience if the project moves forward.

“If it doesn’t come to a stop, yes, it’s a last resort,” he said, adding that grassroots efforts may be all that’s left.

Coler said his action won’t be complicated.

“I will stand in their way in the forest to stop their progress,” he said.

Coler isn’t afraid of the law. Among other pipeline-related arrests, he was one of seven activists handcuffed at FERC headquarters in Washington last year after inviting agency employees outside for pancakes and “last drops” of maple syrup from a Pennsylvania farm. The stunt was to protest the destruction of the farm’s large sugar bush for construction of the Constitution Pipeline.

“The government isn’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing,” Coler said.

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