A group of protestors associated with Rising Tide Vermont briefly stopped work at a Vermont Gas Systems pipe yard in Williston Wednesday morning.
The group, singing protest songs and chanting, marched across a field and through the pipe yard before staging a sit-in at the entrance to the site, blocking vehicles from coming in or leaving.
Unlike at previous protests, like a “knit-in” that led to one arrest, the protestors fled as soon as a Vermont Gas official approached them. It was a coordinated effort to evade being served notifications of trespass.
Timothy Fair, an attorney representing protestors who have previously been arrested, said police can't make arrests before notification is given by the property owner.
"The Vermont statutes require direct notification of trespass by either Vermont Gas or an authorized agent of Vermont Gas," he said.
The protestors began to chant “we shall not be moved” as they stood up and quickly walked to the property line, though the chant was cut short when a member of the group alerted them to the contradiction.
Williston police were on the scene within minutes after protestors arrived. Chief Todd Shepard repeatedly asked protestors to clear the driveway to the site, but officers never took official action.
In a statement, Vermont Gas spokesman Steve Wark said the pipeline project has broad support among the general public. He decried the protesters' tactics.
"We respect the right individuals have to express their point of view. Unfortunately, this organization has proven on more than one occasion that it cannot be trusted to express their point of view peacefully or honestly," Wark said. "As a result of their extreme behavior, and our concern that they may be violent or vandalize property in the future, we have had to establish specific security protocols to protect people and property and we will continue to follow these protocols."
Wednesday's action at the pipeline yard is the fourth recent protest by groups either explicitly associated with Rising Tide Vermont or independent citizens with access to the organization’s email list.
Two earlier protests led to arrests – the "knit-in" at Vermont Gas headquarters and a protest where a woman was arrested after chaining herself to the headquarters building. A later “fish-in” event consisted of protestors sitting in or standing near a metal canoe placed on the grass outside the Public Service Board offices and singing protest songs (some of the activists were knitting there, too). The fish-in was meant to indicate a “bait and switch” by Vermont Gas, which recently announced a major cost increase to its pipeline project. That demonstration finished without any arrests.
Protestors, landowners, a competing industry group and environmental groups have voiced opposition to the Vermont Gas pipeline, which the company plans to ultimately extend to Rutland.
The groups say the use of gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is unethical, especially since the practice was banned in Vermont by the Legislature. They’ve also voiced concerns about the costs of the project being passed on to existing ratepayers in northwestern Vermont.
So far, regulators at the Vermont Public Service board have approved only the section of pipeline from Colchester to the Middlebury area. A second section, which would extend that across Lake Champlain to the International Paper mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y., is currently under consideration by the board.
Story updated 07/30/14 at 3:25 p.m. to include Vermont Gas comments.