State Sen. Adam Hinds visits anti-pipeline activists in Sandisfield

Will Elwell, who built the protest cabin, speaks as state Sen. Adam Hinds and around 40 activists listen.

SANDISFIELD — The new line is now buried, tucked into the earth with two other pipelines, right next to the Thoreau Cabin Pipeline Barricade.

The barricade didn't stop Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.'s two-mile Otis State Forest stretch of its 13-mile Connecticut Expansion Project, but the activists who put it here aren't stopping, either.

And today they had state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, to lend support to their ongoing mission to complicate any endeavor that involves expanding the fossil fuel infrastructure.

Hinds stood in the open-walled cabin modeled after the one built in 1845 by Henry David Thoreau on Walden Pond in Concord, "the birthplace of the conservation movement" said creator Will Elwell.

And from this cabin one can see what it really takes to build a pipeline.

"When you look out and see ... it's discouraging," Hinds said, looking around at roughly 40 activists — beyond them some forest wreckage and the newly packed earth — and said he was puzzled when the state settled in court with the Kinder Morgan subsidiary for an easement on land protected by the state constitution's Article 97.

"Wait a second — why do we have a constitution and Article 97?" Hinds said he had wondered, referring to the company's payment to the state of $1.2 million that included $640,000 for the land.

And it was the wrestling of this land from the state that is still drawing outrage to this quiet corner, where moose eat lily pads from ponds and turkeys casually saunter. Wild things flourish in the open here, and many keep hidden, perhaps in the mossy old growth forest not far from where the company is building this part of it's $93 million line for gas intended mostly for Connecticut customers.

The state and its laws had to submit to the Natural Gas Act of 1938 last year, however, after a Superior Court judge ruled that the federal law overtook them.

Since early May, 34 anti-pipeline activists affiliated with the Sugar Shack Alliance, which organized the rally, have been arrested for trespassing here on the company's easement.

Hinds also gently denounced the pipeline approval process by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which left several appeals against the project in limbo while moving forward with approval to start work here. He said there was also a "disconnect" on a larger scale.

"FERC is missing an opportunity," he said. "The rest of the world is moving in the direction of renewable energy."

And that is where, Sugar Shack activists say, everyone should be headed, in a peaceful but unrelenting approach to curbing global warming.

Hinds said while it was "great" that state Gov. Charlie Baker signed on to the U.S. Climate Alliance after Pres. Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, "that's not enough."

"Elections have serious policy consequences," he reminded everyone, referring to Trump.

And he said that's why it was so important that grassroots activists, like Sugar Shack, continue to dig their heels in.

And the activists agree. Many were in court again last week defending their right to step into state forest — which they say is theirs — and that any movement considered trespassing was prompted by necessity to save the land and all life on earth.

"I'm hoping for a tolerable planet," said Rebecca Bradshaw from her perch on a newly installed lifeguard seat that overlooks roughly a mile of pipeline corridor. The seat sits on a slice of land that is so close to the pipeline easement that a buggy filled with company security sat watching the gathering, and hollered at any missteps off the easement boundary.

And Will Elwell, a retired Ashfield-based builder who first installed the cabin on the path of Kinder Morgan's proposed - but tabled — Northeast Energy Direct pipeline last year in Ashfield, said a breach of Article 97 is the "very definition and epitome of environmental injustice."

He spoke of the sights, smells and sounds of nature that he said aren't natural here anymore.

"They're gone," he said. "We don't hear the songbirds or the owl or the crow. It's pretty quiet here. This spring will be a silent spring. We are exiled from nature."

There was a little birdsong, but not as much as there was before this all started — it's true.

And while the activists are also concerned with the wider impact of more natural gas transmission, Kinder Morgan says in it's climate change statement that the company is working toward solutions and expects "that future energy demand will be met in part by a growing proportion of renewable energy sources."

The company says it is building new natural gas lines "to make access to lower carbon and renewable energy more feasible," and says it is, among other environmental strategies, "reducing emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases from our operations."

But there are complaints about other things, especially the system in which pipelines are approved, something several U.S. lawmakers took FERC to task on. Susan Baxter, who owns the abutting land on which the cabin sits, spoke of appeals still in limbo with FERC, one of which she was a part as a member of Sandisfield Taxpayers Opposed to the Pipeline. She also said the company has made other infractions here during a six-month process that began in early May.

Sugar Shack spokesman Bob Barba said the group "took this job" in Sandisfield for this one little pipeline spur because it ultimately connects all pipelines that serve mostly private profit. He said activists were doing their job just as Tennessee Gas employees, security guards, and state police were doing theirs.

And Ron Bernard, who has a segment of this tri-state project running through his property, 250 feet from his house, looked at the now-buried new line, and quoted Jimmy Carter.

"Life isn't fair," he said.

Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871