Otis State Forest

Ten Tennessee Gas Pipeline protesters face trespassing charges for blocking access roads

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SANDISFIELD — Two groups of anti-pipeline protesters staged an early-morning shutdown of two access roads to the portion of the Tennessee Gas Co. pipeline that passes through the Otis State Forest.

The protesters were eventually removed by state police at about 8:45 a.m. A total of 10 are expected to be charged with trespassing.

As has been the case throughout the several months of civil disobedience, the protesters were peaceful, state police reported.

"It was a very peaceful, completely nonviolent protest," agreed spokeswoman Susan Triolo for the Sugar Shack Alliance. Sugar Shack is a consortium of concerned citizens who oppose the expanded use of fossil fuels. The alliance is part of a national movement opposed to that activity.

On Wednesday, the protesters set themselves across an access road off Cold Spring Road, just north of Spectacle Pond and farther down the road at South Beach Plain Road. These are the access roads used by construction vehicles and workers under contract by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.

The protesters arrived at about 6:30 a.m. at both sites The intent, according to Triolo, was "to reach the roads before the pipeline employees could get to work."

The protesters blocked the roads by standing across them and also by stringing yellow crime tape across the roads. A protester held up a sign that read "Road closed" at the Spectacle Pond site.

By about 6:50 a.m., state police had been alerted to the protest attempt by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. employees, and had been dispatched to the state forest. Four units were at the Spectacle Pond protest site, while another three units drove to the South Plain Beach Road site.

By about 7:10, cruisers had blocked off Cold Spring Road and were diverting traffic.

Wednesday morning was the latest development in the David vs. Goliath battle between activists with the Sugar Shack Alliance and the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan.

The company's 13-mile Connecticut Expansion Project cuts a swath through the town of Sandisfield, including two miles that drill through the Otis State Forest, a portion of which is located in Sandisfield.

The protesters are most nettled by this development. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. has obtained a permit to perform work in the state forest, paying the state about $1.2 million to do so. Ironically, the forest is part of a state forest system committed to the preservation of the commonwealth's natural resources. The 3,800-acre Otis State Forest is actually a series of forest lands scattered throughout the rural communities of Otis and Sandisfield. The forests offer hiking, fishing and hunting.

The pipeline project, which will provide natural gas primarily for the state of Connecticut, has already, said Triolo "destroyed thousands of trees and cleared hundreds of acres of forest land. All destroyed."

She added that while the state of Connecticut has determined that its natural gas needs have declined, the pipeline work continues.

Although designated state forests are supposed to be protected by the state government, Kinder Morgan obtained an easement through the Otis State Forest following a legal battle with the commonwealth. The issue was resolved when a Superior Court judge ruled that the 1938 Federal Gas Act, a statute that many argue is outdated 79 years later, takes precedence over any state statute.

Reach staff writer Derek Gentile at 413-770-6977.




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