Demonstrators went to Vermont Gas Systems headquarters Tuesday morning in an effort to stop the company’s planned natural gas pipeline that would extend service south from Chittenden County.
The demonstrators, organized by Rising Tide Vermont, entered the Vermont Gas building in South Burlington and hung a banner from its roof. One protester, Sara Mehalick, chained herself to the front door of the building.
“I’m staying here today until Vermont Gas withdraws all of their permit applications, including the current application to the Public Service Board, and stops all of their construction plans for the first phase of the pipeline,” she said.
Mehalick said she wants to see “community solutions to meet our energy needs that are affordable and also maintain a livable planet for all of our communities.” She would not elaborate on what those solutions would be – just that “new fossil fuel infrastructure is not a part of that solution.”
Vermont Gas has no plans to scrap the pipeline project, protesters or not. Steve Wark, a spokesman for the company, said that protest is fine but alleged that some of Tuesday’s demonstrators crossed the line into criminal activity.
“In this particular case,” he said, “there were a couple of protesters that actually stormed into the building, distracted employees and went up to the roof – a very dangerous situation. But I think the most disturbing one was one of our employees was assaulted. She was at the front door, was caught in the melee of what was going on, and she’s been injured.”
Wark said the chain used to attach Mehalick to the building injured the Vermont Gas employee. Rising Tide Vermont later released a statement that said the organization "denies Vermont Gas' allegations that an assault occurred during this nonviolent action."
Despite the fact that the chain was attached to her, Mehalick said she knew nothing about any injury.
“I’m not aware of that,” she said. “I’m really excited to be a part of this long tradition in Vermont and in the world of nonviolent protest, and that’s why we’re here today as part of a nonviolent movement.”
South Burlington police were on the scene, but said they will not take any action unless violence breaks out or Vermont Gas formally asks the protesters to leave in writing and they refused. Vermont Gas did make that request in writing Tuesday morning.
As of 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, no arrests had been made.
Updated May 27 at 1:50 p.m. to reflect Rising Tide Vermont's denial of assault allegations.
Update May 27 1:10 p.m.: Sara Mehalick was arrested and charged with unlawful trespass after police cut the chain holding her in place, according to South Burlington Detective Ron Bliss.
— Jack Thurston (@JackNECN) May 27, 2014