Kinder Morgan paid state police $773K for special details to help protect pipeline section
The list of troopers is long, the bill is high, and because it's all paid for by Kinder Morgan, the questions are many — questions about who's working for whom.
During a season of unrelenting anti-pipeline rallies and protests from the very end of April through September, Kinder Morgan has, so far, paid Massachusetts State Police $773,000 for special details at a section of its Connecticut Expansion Project, a $93 million third natural gas line built by its subsidiary, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.
State police invoices given to The Eagle from Cathy Kristofferson of the Massachusetts PipeLine Awareness Network, a pipeline project intervener, show that security costs to the company rose as protests gained momentum over the summer months, and activists, in some cases, drew closer to dangerous pipeline equipment.
It was then that the demonstrations grew more frequent, and attracted a group of younger activists known as "water protectors" who had previously spent months at the Standing Rock, N.D., Dakota Access pipeline resistance.
In May, Kinder Morgan paid state police $115,949.33, and by August that number had risen to $200,105.92, with a dip in June to $108,131.98, according to invoices confirmed as authentic by State Police spokesman David Procopio.
The company spent $160,254.66 in July, and $188,339.37 in September.
It was September that saw peaceful but more unpredictable actions by water protectors at a pipeline construction site that activists hoped would raise awareness about pipeline concerns everywhere.
And Procopio told The Eagle that a still-unsolved vandalism incident in which large water hoses were sliced at the work site in mid-September increased troopers on the midnight shift for about seven weeks.
In Sandisfield, about 4 miles of the larger, tri-state pipeline is ready to flow gas. And about 2 miles of it was built in Otis State Forest, on state-owned and protected land, something that, along with other issues, galvanized activists.
The protests began when Tennessee Gas began tree-cutting work to expand its pipeline corridor to make room for this line.
But demonstrations are continuing as the company tries to finish cleanup and environmental restoration to the area.
And as Tennessee Gas tries to button things down for the winter, state police have grown more aggressive in their approach as water protectors grow in numbers, and are more unpredictable and provocative than their older counterparts from the Sugar Shack Alliance, with whom state police have had a collegial and somewhat more trusting relationship.
But two weeks ago, 55 state troopers, two with police dogs, flooded to company headquarters here during a double road blockade by about 30 water protectors and Sugar Shack members.
It was a tense day.
One water protector, about to be arrested, was subdued with a stun gun after he panicked and ran, knocking down a trooper during the chase, police say. A week earlier, another water protector was tackled for an arrest after state police said she pushed a trooper's arm.
When asked if such security costs are typical for a Kinder Morgan pipeline project, or if this project has been particularly expensive because of controversy, company spokesman David Conover told The Eagle that the company does not "comment on law enforcement and security matters."
Along with cries of "mni wiconi," which means "water is life" in Lakota, shouts of "who do you protect?" are still heard in the state forest when the water protectors are out. Both are catchphrases for a new movement born on the front lines of the Standing Rock entrenchment, which saw a massive public and private security presence at the behest of Energy Transfer Partners and its Dakota Access pipeline.
It's a fair question.
The state police invoices show hourly overtime rates for trooper pipeline details running $56 to $128 per hour for what are mostly eight-hour shifts, depending on rank and other factors.
The top hourly rate earner, a captain, makes $1,024, paid by Kinder Morgan, every time he heads out to the pipeline for an eight-hour shift. His earnings from April 30 to Sept. 17 totaled about $13,700.
And a sergeant who worked many shifts at a lower rate than the captain earned $19,400 over the past five months.
Procopio said that the mission of state police is to keep people and property safe, period, and that security details and overtime, which are in addition to regular on-duty trooper staffing, don't affect normal shift levels and are blind to politics and money.
"We do not view events or missions in terms of a party's financial interests or political sensitivity," he added, "regardless of and without attention to how events are characterized or debated by participants or the media."
Procopio said another good example of this is state police details at the self-described `Free Speech' rally on Boston Common the week after the violence in Charlottesville, Va., during the summer.
"Our security mission there consisted of protection of lives and property of all," he said.
Kinder Morgan's contract with state police calls up lots of questions about who the master is, said one law professor.
"Who is responsible for [police] decisions about how to act?" said Peter Enrich, who teaches at Northeastern University, specializing in state and local government and intergovernmental relations. "It raises questions in the minds of citizens, that `Is this my government that's acting, or is this a private entity that's acting?'"
"And I can't think of any legal guidance," he added. "Who's liable? The state police, Kinder Morgan, the individual trooper? And does the trooper have the same protections and immunities that she would have on her normal duties?"
Enrich said that Kinder Morgan's contract with a private firm for pipeline security doesn't kick up these questions.
"There's no confusion, nor confusion about who's liable," he said.
Northampton-based litigator Buz Eisenberg specializes in civil liberties and human rights law. He said this state police contract smacks of a time when lawmen acted on behalf coal mine owners during strikes.
While state police on pipeline duty have shown respect for the right of activists to protest peacefully, Eisenberg said the recent presence of police dogs might be taken as an indicator of allegiance.
"Dogs appear to me to chill peaceful First Amendment protesters," he said.
But Eisenberg also said that if activists begin damaging property, police have the right to be more aggressive.
He said police can either see younger activists as the "enemy" or as "young and enthusiastic," and guide them through their activism, even if it means arrest.
The key, Eisenberg said, is community policing, and he referred to Missouri State Police Capt. Ron Johnson who, during the riots in Ferguson, Mo., acted as a liaison to young people and had a calming effect.
"He stood with them, he walked with them, he sat with them ... they became increasingly more orderly and private property wasn't threatened," he said.
"They're our employees, even off-duty," Eisenberg said of state police. "Whether somebody else is writing them a check doesn't release them for the oath they made to protect the citizens and the constitution."
Procopio said that the state police mission is also to protect residents' rights, as well.
More often than not, Otis State Forest has seen heartwarming, rock-solid community policing moments, like the time one trooper told activists that he agreed with them on principle, yet had to do his job and didn't want anyone to get hurt.
But Enrich thinks the whole arrangement cuts a vast swath of murkiness.
"Who's responsible for their decisions about how to act?" he said. "These are interesting and complicated questions. We expect state police to be accountable by the government machinery that we create at the ballot box, and if we don't control them, that's what creates the real confusion here."
Heather Bellow can be reached at 413-329-6871 email@example.com or @BE_hbellow.
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