'Keep it in the ground'

Press-Republican | July 7, 2015 | Column by Lohr McKinstry

TICONDEROGA — Activists blocked railroad tracks in Ticonderoga and chained themselves to natural-gas pipelines and transport trucks in Vermont on Tuesday as part of a day of protest nationwide.

Protestors Protestors from a consortium of environmental groups block the tracks at the Ticonderoga Amtrak Train Station in opposition to crude-oil trains that travel through there. They sat on the rails for 47 minutes to honor the 47 victims of the 2013 Quebec rail disaster.

The compressed-natural-gas tractor-trailer was headed from Milton, Vt., to International Paper’s Ticonderoga mill, which converted last month to burn natural gas in its power boiler and limekiln.

It was delayed for about two hours after fossil-fuel protesters belonging to the Trans* and/or Women's Action Camp, known as TWAC, blocked Route 17 at the Chimney Point State Historic Site, just off the Vermont side of the Champlain Bridge opposite Crown Point.

CHAINED TO TRUCK

While about 40 protesters wearing hardhats and orange safety vests walked in front of the NG Advantage transport, Damien Gabriel, 18, of Florida slid under the back of the truck and was quickly fastened with chains to the bumper.

Activists hung a banner that read “Not by Truck, Pipe or Rail” from the Champlain Bridge.

The Vergennes Volunteer Fire Department was called to the site, and firefighters used their rescue tools to cut away a section of the bumper and slide off the chains around Gabriel’s arm.

Gabriel was taken away by Vermont State Police in handcuffs, arrested for disorderly conduct and unlawful mischief, both misdemeanors. The protester's four support companions at the truck were charged only with disorderly conduct.

'TERRIBLY IRRESPONSIBLE'

NG Advantage Chief Executive Officer Thomas Evslin said the protesters, themselves, created a dangerous situation.

“It’s a terribly irresponsible thing to do, to run out in the road and stop a truck carrying flammable fuel to seize control of the truck.

"They not only put themselves in danger, they put everyone around in danger.”

He praised Vermont State Police for handling the situation calmly.

“The fire department came and cut the bumper off. It had to be done in a spark-free way because you have a truck full of fuel.

“You can’t be stopping trucks. It’s an important safety issue.”

He said protesters were misguided.

“They believe they’re doing this for the environment. (But) all the gas we deliver is displacing oil. One truck (of natural gas) saves 1,200 pounds of CO2 from being emitted.”

SOLIDARITY

“I took action today in solidarity with communities on the frontlines of gas extraction and the climate crisis,” Gabriel said in a statement after the arrest.

“NG Advantage and Vermont Gas benefit from the exploitation and destruction of indigenous lands. I cannot stand by and let the transport of fracked gas go unnoticed while so many land bases and communities are being destroyed in the name of fossil fuel expansion and profit.“

TWAC spokesperson Emma McCumber said her group was calling for an end to extreme energy extraction. She said the truck was carrying natural gas from the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline obtained through hydraulic fracturing.

“It’s fueling climate change,” she said. “They (TWAC) are in solidarity with people against these extreme industries.”

VOICES ACROSS VT

McCumber said the natural gas in the pipeline is extracted in Alberta, Canada, where indigenous peoples in the Lubicon Lake Cree First Nation are also opposing the use of their land for the process.

“Will Vermont defend the companies bringing in fracked gas or are they concerned about it?” McCumber asked. “Voices across Vermont have spoken loudly against fracked gas.”

International Paper spokeswoman Donna Wadsworth could not be reached Tuesday afternoon for comment on the protest.

'NO PIPELINES, TRAINS, TRUCKS'

In Ticonderoga on Tuesday, about 150 protesters from Vermont arrived at the State Boat Launch Site by canoe, kayak, bus and car.

EnCon Officer A.J. Brassard told them they would be arrested if they didn’t leave the Boat Launch parking lot. He said the site is only for those launching or removing boats from the lake.

Once they had relocated to another parking lot nearby, protest spokeswoman Meaghan Lasala said the use of the rail system to transport crude oil has gone up 4,000 percent in the last five years.

“We are gathering as a part of a coordinated day of action to say no to pipelines, no to oil trains, no to trucks. Every day, it’s putting the people who live here at risk.”

State Department of Environmental Conservation Director of Media Relations Thomas Malley said his agency learned on Tuesday morning that there would be an organized rally at the Boat Launch.

“Organized group events on state lands are required to apply for and receive a permit from DEC," he said in a statement. "This organization did not apply for such a permit."

Organizers said they did apply for a permit through DEC’s Ray Brook office, however, and were never told it hadn’t been granted.

SAT ON RAILROAD TRACKS

The Ticonderoga House of Pizza delivered a dozen pizza pies to the protesters that they ate while listening to a band and hearing from speakers.

The group then marched from the Boat Launch overflow parking lot to the Ticonderoga Amtrak Train Station, waving signs and carrying banners, and sat on the tracks.

Ticonderoga Town Police and Canadian Pacific Railway Police asked them to move, but the protesters said they intended to sit on the rails for 47 minutes, one minute for each person who died in the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, oil train disaster on July 6, 2013.

In that wreck, an oil train carrying Bakken formation crude oil derailed and exploded in the middle of town.

“What we see with these incidents is the people most affected are communities that are low-income, people of color,” Lasala said.

Police ultimately allowed the protesters to stay on the rails for the full 47 minutes then leave.

Ticonderoga Town Police Chief Mark Johns said his agency was chiefly standing by.

“They’re expressing their First Amendment rights,” he said. “We’re here if need be.”

'PROTECT THE LAKE'

Heidi Brugger of Freedom, Maine, said she was at the rally to raise public awareness for oil-train safety.

“These oil trains are travelling in populated areas as well as here, places like Albany, Philadelphia, Baltimore, that are near water bodies,” she said. “The Bakken crude is highly explosive. It incinerated the town of Lac-Mégantic.

“Lake Champlain is a really important resource. We want to protect the lake.”

Kevin Zeese of Hague said he came to the rally to see what was going on.

“I’m glad people are out protesting,” he said. “As a country, we’re going into it without thinking this (oil trains) through. There are a dozen oil-train accidents a year.

“Ticonderoga does not need an oil-train disaster.”

'IN THE PUBLIC EYE'

The people at the rally were part of several environmental groups, including Rising Tide Vermont, Earth First!, Forest Ethics, Beyond Extreme Energy, Greenpeace and People United for Safe Energy.

In Williston, Vt., 30 people stopped construction on the Vermont Gas pipeline extension Tuesday morning, and two chained themselves to construction equipment. Four were arrested there.

"We are committed to bringing an affordable, clean energy choice to Vermont communities, families and businesses," Vermont responded to the protest in a statement.

"We respect the right to a peaceful and safe demonstration. The event in Williston took place at an active worksite that put our employees, public safety officials and the protesters at risk.”

Rallies like the one in Ticonderoga serve to keep oil trains in the public eye, Lasala said.

“Even a small spill can be devastating. “We have to keep all the fossil fuels in the ground. There is the global scientific consensus that we have to leave 80 percent of fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we can reasonably hope to have a livable planet.”

Email Lohr McKinstry:

lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @LohrMcKinstry

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.