State police charge 22 pipeline protesters with trespassing



Published: 07-31-2017 12:02 PM

SANDISFIELD — Massachusetts State Police arrested 22 protesters Saturday, including 20 from the Pioneer Valley, after police said they trespassed into a restricted area at a natural gas pipeline construction site in Sandisfield and refused to leave.

The protesters, who ranged in age from 24 to 84, were arrested peacefully and without resistance, State Police spokesman Dave Procopio said in a release. The arrests were made during the late morning and early afternoon.

The arrests were made at the site of the Kinder Morgan pipeline extension, which is being installed through a portion of Otis State Forest to connect two existing pipeline branches. There have been several other arrests for trespassing at the pipeline project in recent weeks.

The protesters were released on personal recognizance pending a court appearance, after being booked into the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Department.

Demonstrators were part of the Sugar Shack Alliance, a coalition bringing together people from the Northeast to nonviolently disrupt the fossil fuel industry. Members of the alliance have been protesting the site since earlier this year.

John Cohen, 79, of Northampton, was one of the demonstrators arrested. Cohen has been arrested before while protesting the pipeline. He called projects like the pipeline extension “suicide.”

“If we don’t stop the use of fossil fuels fast, life on this planet will be severely restricted at best,” Cohen said. “We have got to force this country and the world off of fossil fuels.”

Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, started work in April on the Connect Expansion Project. The $93 million project will upgrade Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s existing system in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut to meet increased demand in the Northeast for transportation capacity for natural gas.

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The pipeline will cut through Albany County in New York, Berkshire and Hampden counties in Massachusetts, and Connecticut’s Hartford County.

Kinder Morgan spokesman Richard Wheatley said Sunday the company was deferring comment to the Massachusetts State Police.

Erik Burcroff, 61, of Plainfield, was arrested once before at the site. He said he was protesting against billionaires who want to ravage the country for profit. After writing letters to members of Congress and speaking at meetings, this seems to be the only option left.

“It’s important to me and to us to stand against this corporate takeover,” Burcroff said. “It seems there is no other recourse. We’ve exhausted all other alternatives.”

Sugar Shack Alliance’s next steps are unclear until they meet later this week, Cohen said. The group’s goals are twofold: stop the Connecticut Expansion Project pipeline and build a larger international group to stop future projects.

“We need to protect all creatures on this planet,” Cohen said. “I will continue to try to persuade people to stop projects like this.”