10 Tennessee Gas pipeline protesters released after arrests for disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace

A scene from Tuesday's protests outside of Otis State Forest.

GREAT BARRINGTON — The 10 protesters arrested on Wednesday morning have all been charged with disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace in the wake of their attempt to block two of the access roads to the Otis State Forest in Sandisfield.

They were released on their own recognizance and have return court dates on Aug. 21 and Aug. 31, according to a clerk at the Southern Berkshire District Court. The specific names and addresses of the protesters were not released.

But protesters complained on Thursday that they were not initially allowed to make phone calls while in custody and also that their stay in custody lasted all day. In the past, they said, the booking process was a few hours.

"Something," said protester Hattie Nestle, "went kablooie."

A total of 10 protesters were arrested early Wednesday morning as they stood in front of two access roads used by employees of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. to lay a natural gas pipeline through the Otis State Forest. The arrests by state police were, according to both sides, peaceful and nonconfrontational, which has been a hallmark of the protesters' four-month dissent over placing a pipeline through state land that is ordinarily committed to the conservation of natural resources.

The situation appears to have deteriorated following the arrests.

"We know the drill," said Nestle. "We know how this works. We get arrested, we're booked, we get a court date. But we were in custody for hours before anyone paid any attention to us. And it wasn't like we didn't try to get someone's attention. The police kept turning their backs to us and ignoring us. It was very frustrating."

Nestle said she and some of the other arrestees wanted to make phone calls to arrange for transportation home, but were initially denied the chance, although eventually they were allowed to make calls.

A state police spokesman did not return several calls seeking clarification.

The 10 protesters were released on their personal recognizance, although Nestle said that, initially, the protesters were threatened with having to pay bail.

The Sugar Shack Alliance, of which the protesters are members, was created to oppose Kinder Morgan's Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline, which was scrapped in April 2016. It operates as a coalition of climate-minded activism groups.

Kinder Morgan spokesman Richard Wheatley declined to say whether protests have impacted the cost of the pipeline under construction.

"We've watched from the beginning. When we started this process a year ago, we've been watching as they've prepared, as they've gone through conservation commission meetings, and we feel like all of the state agencies and the federal energy organizations, they've all failed in terms of really stepping up and doing their jobs. There's not a pipeline FERC hasn't met that they don't love and they don't approve," Sugar Shack Alliance member Susan Triolo said, criticizing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The Sugar Shack Alliance is raising concerns about the water Kinder Morgan will pump from Lower Spectacle Pond to test the pipes. Triolo said her group is concerned about toxins that could pollute the water and potential impacts the water could have on cold water fish if it is warmed up for testing and then pumped back into the environment. Construction is happening "closer than it ought to be" to private property of people who live nearby, Triolo added.

"As approved by regulators, we will be conducting hydrostatic testing using water from Lower Spectacle Pond, and that water will be dispersed according to strict conditions imposed by regulators, including: the FERC, US Army Corps of Engineers, the Sandisfield Conservation Commission and MADEP and US EPA," Wheatley said.

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