Pipeline opponents poised for peaceful protest Friday at Otis State Forest

Members of an activist group called Sugar Shack Alliance will hold a peaceful protest on Friday to oppose Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. plans to expand its pipeline corridor through Otis State Forest, seen in this aerial photo above.

SANDISFIELD — A group of activists are planning a peaceful demonstration in Otis State Forest on Friday to protest pipeline construction that will require clearing roughly 29 acres of state-owned forest to expand an existing pipeline corridor.

The Western Massachusetts-based Sugar Shack Alliance will gather at 11 a.m. at Lower Spectacle Pond off Cold Spring Road for a "non-violent" opposition to Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.'s plans here.

"We need to protect our forests, not build pipelines through them," said Sugar Shack member Susan Theberge.

After an April 12 authorization to proceed with tree cutting and construction was issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the town began to swell with private and state police security, construction workers and heavy equipment for this section of Kinder Morgan subsidiary's tri-state Connecticut Expansion Project.

While 2 miles of pipes will run through state-owned forest protected by Article 97 of the state Constitution, another roughly 2 miles will run through private property here.

The project has faced multiple delays as the state, environmental groups and residents battled the company in court.

While tree cutting is officially allowed to begin Thursday, no one knows for sure when it will begin. Kinder Morgan spokesman Richard Wheatley said the company will not release construction schedules or locations, adding that increased security is in the interest of public safety. Portions of the forest adjacent to the pipeline construction zone now are closed to the public.

Plans for the natural gas storage loop have angered and worried residents, legislators, and environmentalists on a number of grounds.

"We are facing climate chaos," Theberge said. "We need to move rapidly away from fossil fuels and towards a sustainable energy future."

The group says it is "determined to keep up their opposition on the ground, in courts and in the media," and said Tuesday members had affirmed "their values of non-violence, civil disobedience, and peaceful resistance to fossil fuels — regardless of the heavy security presence."

"The group has proactively met with both local Sandisfield and state police officials to keep channels of communication open, ensure the safety of all involved, and the peaceful nature of actions," the statement said, noting that members are trained in "non-violent direct action."

Member Cate Woolner said the group's code of conduct "includes a commitment to no property destruction, peaceful actions, and the presence of peacekeepers, legal observers and police liaisons at all actions."

The group recently launched a social media project, #whyiprotect, on Twitter and Facebook.

The project, said the group statement "is driven equally by a profound concern for the accelerating pace of climate disruption and by a deep reverence for places like Otis State Forest and the conservation principles that are meant to protect them."

Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871