Gas pipeline opponents stage protest in Williston

Opponents of the planned natural gas pipeline held a protest at the Vermont Gas staging area in Williston Wednesday morning. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)
Opponents of the planned natural gas pipeline held a protest at the Vermont Gas staging area in Williston Wednesday morning. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff

Opponents of the Vermont Gas pipeline staged a sit-in protest at the Williston staging area Wednesday morning, briefly disrupting work on the pipeline.
A dozen protestors associated with Rising Tide Vermont, a group that has opposed the pipeline, sat blocking the driveway at the former Williston Driving Range for approximately an hour, singing songs and displaying banners that read “You will not break ground, you will not break us” and “Permits ≠  permission.”
“We are asking Vermont Gas and its employees to stop work here and let them know that we aren’t going anywhere,” said Jen Berger of Burlington, a spokeswoman for the group. “We’ve been speaking out in opposition and we want them to listen.”
Berger said there are no concrete plans in place, but didn’t rule out the possibility that protestors would be back.
“We’re going to continue to demand that they stop construction,” she said.
Holding hands, the protestors sang songs with lyrics like “We’ll flood the streets with justice,” “We shall not give up the fight, we have only started” and “Which side are you on, Shumlin?”
The group attempted to deliver a “stop work order” to Vermont Gas employees, but Caroline Decunzo, and organizer with the group, said the employees refused to accept it.
The group stood and left, singing, at nearly 10:30 a.m., when a Vermont Gas representative approached with a trespass warning.
Decunzo said the group is pleased with the day’s efforts.
“It was a great experience for us to be there and successfully blockade the pipeyard and stop work for an hour and a half,” she said. “I think that’s a huge accomplishment.”
She said organizers were also able to communicate with police officers and Vermont Gas representatives, hearing about their viewpoints and plans.
Representatives of Vermont Gas could not be reached before the Observer’s press deadline on Wednesday.
Williston Police officers arrived at the site shortly after protestors. Chief Todd Shepard said protestors have the right to make their voices heard, but his officers were there to make sure workers and protestors were safe.
“Our concern is safety,” he said. “The safety of the demonstrators and safety on the work site.”
If formal trespass warnings were issued, the officers’ roles would have been to enforce those warnings, he said.
“Certainly they have the right to assemble peacefully and demonstrate, but they have to do it in the public right of way,” Shepard said.
Vermont Gas set up the Williston staging area in late May for work on the Addison Rutland Natural Gas Project.
The Vermont Public Service Board approved a 41-mile stretch of natural gas pipeline, known as Phase I of the project, in December. Phase I will bring natural gas from Colchester to Middlebury and Vergennes through an underground high-pressure pipeline, passing through Essex, Williston, St. George and Hinesburg. Vermont Gas received its final permits earlier this month. Vermont Gas hopes to eventually extend the pipeline to Rutland.
Rising Tide Vermont has staged several recent protests, objecting to the fracked gas that would run through the pipeline, the investment in fossil fuels and what they say was not a participatory decision-making process, as well as promoting the rights of landowners who do not want the pipeline to run through their properties.
“We’re standing here today to let Vermont Gas know that they do not have the social license to continue construction,” Berger said in a statement. “Vermont Gas must halt construction immediately. Ratepayers don’t want to fund this project, and landowners don’t want to host it. Enough is enough.”