Pipeline resistance builds as ‘Thoreau’ protest cabin goes up in Otis State Forest

by Heather Bellow, Berkshire Eagle

May 8, 2017

SANDISFIELD — Same pipeline company. Same cabin. Different place.

As a vicious wind shot through the pipeline corridor in Otis State Forest, activists began installing a 10-by-15-foot cabin on adjacent private land, a post and beam structure made famous for its year-long use in Ashfield last year to protest Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline (NED).

While the company eventually shut down its plans for NED, citing gas demand issues, subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s Connecticut Expansion Project looks like it will make the finish line.

The cabin may not, however. Members of Sugar Shack Alliance, an anti-pipeline group, were well into construction when a town official came to tell members the structure violated local zoning laws because it is within 30 feet of the state property line. He said the state Department of Conservation Resources had just filed a complaint, according to Sugar Shack spokeswoman Abby Ferla. 

It all began earlier, when just over a low orange fence demarcating the company’s easement on state-owned land, workers slowly took trees down one by one with a chainsaw, guiding them with ropes to fall away from the existing corridor where a slice of private land crosses it, and where the activists have been assembling.

The owner of this land, Susan Baxter, kept this particular stand of trees from the saw by sitting on a rock at the property line, while workers cut around it. 

Trees in this roughly 2 miles of state forest that required cutting for the company’s natural gas storage loop are almost all gone but for this last swath. The $93 million, 13-mile tri-state line has been delayed about a year by legal challenges on a number of grounds as the state and other groups fought the project. 

But here it finally is. Just over a week into cutting and already 24 arrests have been made during peaceful protests last Tuesday and Saturday.

Now Sugar Shack activists are settling in on Baxter’s land for the 6 month construction period, traveling here in their spare time to continue this resistance.

“It’s a place to witness and let [the company] know we’re still watching,” said Sugar Shack spokeswoman Abby Ferla.

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