With tensions building regarding the controversial Connecticut Expansion Project in Sandisfield, MA, the normally sleepy Otis State forest has become the site of 24/7 private security detail and the apparent focus of intensifying law enforcement at the local and state level.
As the Berkshire Eagle reported Monday, “Tennessee Gas has hired three Massachusetts State Police details for daylight hours and eight full-time security guards for around-the-clock coverage” for security at the site.
Meanwhile, the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) acting on behalf of Kinder Morgan and their Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company (TGP) affiliate, has begun dramatically restricting access to the state forest– apparently in an attempt to stifle expected protests. In the last week, signs have been appearing at access points to the forest, restricting the public from entering the tax-payer-owned forest.
“Area closed to public access,” the signs read, “This area is subject to a temporary construction easement.”
In stark contrast to the response of Kinder Morgan, about fifty residents of Western Mass met in a large circle Tuesday night to recommit to their values of non-violence, civil disobedience, and peaceful resistance to fossil fuels– regardless of the heavy security presence. TGP hopes to begin felling thousands of trees on or about Thursday, April 27, but the activists, calling themselves the Sugar Shack Alliance, are determined to keep up their opposition on the ground, in courts, and in the media.
“We need to protect our forests, not build pipelines through them,” said Sugar Shack Member Susan Theberge Wednesday, “We are facing climate chaos. We need to move rapidly away from fossil fuels and towards a sustainable energy future.”
The group, calling itself the Sugar Shack Alliance, is a coalition of activists based in Western Massachusetts. Sugar Shack Alliance is rooted in the principles of non-violence. Originally formed in resistance to the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, Sugar Shack has expanded its mission to resist all expansion of the fossil fuel industry. All members of the alliance are committed to non violence, have completed eight hours of comprehensive nonviolent direct action training, are members of affinity groups, and agree on all decisions using a consensus-based model. 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.
Cate Woolner, a member of Sugar Shack, described the group’s strategies as “imaginatively nonviolent,” explaining that the SSA’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.”
Woolner added, “Anyone who acts outside of these conditions is not endorsed or part of Sugar Shack.”
In conjunction with their presence on the ground, the group has launched a creative social media project emblematic of its mission. This #whyiprotect project, found as a hashtag on Twitter and group on Facebook, 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.
In his first #whyiprotect entry, the project’s curator, Bob Barba of the Affinity Ashfield group, wrote, “I still abide by the apparently quaint notion that conservation land is actually conserved in perpetuity and not just unless and until we find some profitable or expedient reason to destroy it.”
In the past year, this 3.8 mile piece of the CT Expansion Project has faced ongoing opposition from local residents, private citizens, environmentalists, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts – which owns the land in conservation. Though Article 97 of the state constitution states that publicly-owned land cannot be used for private interests, the state was forced through federal eminent domain law to reach a settlement with the company in December.
For more information, see http://sugarshackalliance.