Builder to protest pipeline with cabin in Ashfield

  • Timber to be used in the construction of a 10-by-15-foot cabin, the same size as Henry David Thoreau's cabin, at Will Elwell's workshop Monday. The cabin will be built in the proposed path of the Kinder Morgan Northeast Energy Direct pipeline in Ashfield Wednesday. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Will Elwell, owner of Elwell Construction located in Ashfield, stands beside a trailer filled with timber to be used in the construction of a 10-by-15-foot cabin, the same size as Henry David Thoreau's cabin, at his workshop Monday. The cabin will be built with the help of others from the community at the intersection of Bellus and Beldingville Roads in the proposed path of the Kinder Morgan Northeast Energy Direct pipeline in Ashfield Wednesday. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

For the Gazette
Published: 3/15/2016 8:57:10 AM

ASHFIELD — What would Thoreau do?

Timber-frame builder Will Elwell thinks he’s got the answer.

Inspired by nothing less than Henry David Thoreau’s 1845 “Civil Disobedience” essay and his cabin at Walden Pond, Elwell has spent the last three weeks building a 10-by-15-foot post-and-beam cabin to stand defiantly in the path of Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct natural gas pipeline.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission may be reviewing the company’s voluminous application for its 416-mile project, which would pass through Plainfield and  eight Franklin County towns on its way from Pennsylvania shale fields to Dracut, by way of Wright, N.Y.

But Elwell, a builder of houses and barns frustrated by the possibility that hydrofracked gas would be disrupting the rural tranquility and scenic landscape of Franklin County regardless of widespread opposition, has decided to take matters into his own hands … and those of any neighbors willing to turn out at 10 a.m. Wednesday  for an all-day cabin-raising at the Beldingville and Bellus roads site in the pipeline’s proposed path.

Elwell, whose home is a mile or two away, asked Larry Sheehan if he would be OK with erecting the cabin on his property, where the pipeline is planned to go.

He quotes Thoreau this way:

“The authority of government … is still an impure one: to be strictly just, it must have sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it.”

“If you read some of Thoreau’s work, some of the lines in there are pretty apropos to what’s happening these days to our government. In relation to this pipeline, the will of the people is not really being listened to, and we’re just getting bombarded and railroad through without being empathetic to our concerns.”

As a builder, Elwell said, the cabin is “something I want to do to put something in the path of the pipeline, to get some attention to our plight. I’m not sure whether they’re going to bulldoze it down or move it with a crane. But this is a symbol of our discontent and resistance to the project.”

True, along the path, which would travel through Ashfield, Conway, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Northfield and Warwick, there are wetlands, rivers, springs, farms and forests. But the Walden-like cabin is viewed, for Elwell, anyway, as a symbol of resistance against the nearly $5 billion project.

With the frame dismantled and on a trailer, Elwell plans for the structure to be re-assembled on the site Wednesday.

“This is all going to be decided by five who get to decide whether this is for the common good of the people,” Elwell said. “That seems like a really unfair system, and they’ve got blinders over their eyes, and they do what he corporations want them to do.”

The 10-by-15-foot timber-frame structure, put together with 8-by-8 beams and wooden pegs, is the same size as Thoreau’s Walden cabin.

A friend, Nick Meyer of Conway, donated hand-hewn 8-by-8 posts for the cabin, which Elwell plans to leave exposed for an anti-pipeline walk planned Friday.

“We’re going to have a little gathering to explain about the cabin “to give people a focus for something to think about slowing down this whole pipeline.”

It would be a fitting symbol, since the four-day-long “Taking Steps to a Renewal Future” walk due to begin Thursday in Windsor and end in Northfield on Sunday with more than 115 participants so far, has been planned by the Sugar Shack Alliance opposition group.

More than 55 individuals, organizations, campuses, religious groups, and environmental and social-justice groups have endorsed the 46-mile walk, which will include three public events at 7 p.m. Thursday in Ashfield Congregational Church, Friday at Cowell Gym in Shelburne Falls and Saturday at St. James Episcopal Church in Greenfield.

Elwell, who said it’s unclear how the cabin will be finished or used in the near future, said, “I feel I have to do something. Ideally, I would love to see a structure along the pipeline everywhere it intersects a road.”

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