Fifteen more demonstrators, including a 98-year old activist, were in Southern Berkshire District Court Tuesday for blocking Kinder Morgan’s Connecticut Pipeline expansion in Otis State Forest.
Francis Crowe she’s ready to go to jail.
“No way do they want to put a 98-year-old woman in jail,” Crowe says. “But I hope this will give others the courage to think differently.”
Crowe was among the Sugar Shack Alliance members arrested on June 24th for trespassing in an effort to halt Kinder Morgan from cutting down trees and laying pipe to expand its natural gas pipeline in Western Massachusetts.
Thirty-four demonstrators have been recently arrested on different occasions for trespassing on land now considered off-limits.
Jail time is unlikely for Crowe, according to Sugar Shack attorney Joseph Zlatnik. Earlier this summer, 12 other demonstrators were each fined $100 on trespassing charges.
“All the arguments we made last time regards to Article 97…,” Zlatnik says.
The activists argue the pipeline expansion violates Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution, which protects Otis State Forest. In December 2016, the state announced a settlement with Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company – a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan – for conservation land acquired by eminent domain for the company’s federally-approved project.
“With regards the constitutional rights to be on that land… all of those arguments we are still maintaining. In other words, you know, we … the judge has ruled against us on that but we are maintaining that those are good, true legal arguments that perhaps another judge might have another look at in another point in time. We don’t know – it’s just a thought,” Zlatnik says.
Since turning 90, Crowe has been arrested several times for civil disobedience.
“I don’t think I should have to pay $100 to express my conscience to try to stop the corporations,” Crowe says. “They are the ones who should be fined.”
Zlatnik says Crowe refusing to pay a fine will probably lead to more fines.
“These folks are all, you know, saying that the government has sort of abrogated their responsibility, and they are the last line of the defense,” Zlatnik says.
“If it is not the governor, and it’s not the attorney general, and it’s not the legislature, and it’s not DCR, and it’s not the DPU, and it’s not the Conservation Commission, and it’s not the judge, and we have a climate crisis and it’s been documented, then who do we talk to?” Vivienne Simon, the Alliance’s legal liaison, asks.
U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey along with Congressman Richard Neal, have sent letters calling on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to revoke its authorization of the pipeline. FERC has said it would not comment on the letters.
“If someone could please tell us who would do this: federal government, state government, local government, county government, judge… it doesn’t matter; everyone has passed on this and said ‘It’s not our job.’ So now it’s become our job,” Simon says.
Kinder Morgan plans to build a 13-mile, $93 million pipeline expansion through Otis State Forest to meet what the company says is an increased demand for natural gas in the Northeast. The project will upgrade an existing system in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. It would loop in Albany County in New York, Berkshire and Hampden Counties in Massachusetts, and Hartford County, Connecticut.
“Honorable Paul Vrabel presiding, please be seated and quiet. Make sure your cellphones are turned off. Court is now in session,” the bailiff says.
“All right, these are civil responsibility hearings concerning trespass allegations,” Vrabel says.
In court Tuesday, Zlatnik claimed the protestors did not know they were trespassing. Five others previously arrested for getting too close to the tree-felling won’t have to pay because of the vague boundaries between private and state property.
“They cannot collectively say that ‘I spoke with all of these people and all of these people were trespassing” because liability attaches to the individual. Right? There is no such thing as collective guilt. This is not Soviet Russia,” Zlatnik says, “so the idea is that they have to prove that it was that specific individual person who was notified that they might be trespassing.”
Kinder Morgan says it respects the rights of individuals to engage in peaceful and lawful protests as long as work areas are not disturbed or damaged. The company has designated land for protesting.
Many of the protestors, including Crowe, said they wanted to be arrested.
“I am ready to go to jail,” Crowe says, “although I know they won’t jail me.”
The judge’s verdict will be sent by mail in the next two weeks.
Kinder Morgan expects the pipeline expansion to be in service in November.