Pipeline opponents vow to fight effort to reduce charges in Otis protests

By Heather Bellow, Berkshire Eagle
May 11, 2017

GREAT BARRINGTON — The state wants to reduce the charges against a group of anti-pipeline protesters who were arrested in Otis State Forest last week, but the activists are having none of it.

During an appearance at Southern Berkshire District Court on Thursday, 24 members of the Sugar Shack Alliance bristled when Judge Paul M. Vrabel ordered a civil responsibility hearing on June 20, at which a motion for the change will be made.

Alliance members, who had prepared to be arraigned on charges of trespassing on state property, came bearing “not guilty” signs to hold up at a press conference after the proceedings.

“The state pulled a trick on us,” said alliance member Vivienne Simon on the courthouse steps. “We were caught off guard today.”

Alliance members were arrested on Department of Conservation Resources land for blocking an access road and temporarily stopping ongoing tree cutting and clearing for 2 miles of new pipeline. Kinder Morgan subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. won an easement from the state last year to expand an existing corridor in Sandisfield for its Connecticut Expansion Project, a 13 mile natural gas storage loop that will run through three states.

Eighteen arrests were made May 2; six more protesters were arrested Saturday.

Berkshire District Attorney spokesman Frederick Lantz said reducing the charges is “fairly common practice when it is prudent and appropriate — legislators and the courts have asked us to do that.”

He said the less-serious civil charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct will keep the activists out of jail. They will still have to pay the $100 fine, however.

The protesters vowed to fight that change, saying the criminal charge they currently face better allows them to make their point about their arrest while trying to stop the pipeline project.

Simon, who was arrested May 2, said the state fears publicity from a trial that would allow the group to “address climate chaos” and get their message out.

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