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Senior pipeline protesters won’t get day in court

Observer file photo Protesters sit with their arms chained together at the staging area for the Vermont Gas pipeline, on Sept. 21, 2015.
Observer file photo
Protesters sit with their arms chained together at the staging area for the Vermont Gas pipeline, on Sept. 21, 2015.

Charges dropped against ‘Williston 6,’ group says

By Jess Wisloski

Observer staff

Authorities have dropped the criminal charges against a group of senior protesters arrested last September for blocking access to the construction staging area of a natural gas pipeline on Route 2, according to a group that represents them.

The group of five seniors, who go by the moniker “The Williston 6,” were due in court to face charges of obstruction and resisting arrest, after they chained themselves to the gates of the Williston base of operations for the gas pipeline on September 21.

Originally six were arrested – Fred Wolfe, 85, of Strafford; Karen Starr, 63, of Plainfield; Peggy Benoit, 62, of Rutland; Sharon residents Ulrike von Moltke, 71 and Doug Smith, 75. Nina Swaim, also of Sharon was also arrested, but Swaim passed away in the time since the arrests.

Activist group Rising Tide Vermont, which is opposed to fracking and has staged pipeline protests all over the state, said in a statement:

“Although the group was determined to defend their actions in a jury trial, Chittenden County State’s Attorney Thomas J. Donovan unexpectedly dropped the remaining charges against the group on Friday.”

Von Moltke, reached at her home, said they didn’t know why the case was dropped, and that the group had mixed feelings about it.

“We don’t quite know how to read this yet, what the motives are behind dropping our charges,” she said.

“There is a part of that feeling a bit let down because we had really hoped to take it to jury trial and get more publicity – but on the other hand, we also feel we can maybe take it from here … in particular in hoping that if other people do similar actions that they will be treated likewise,” she said, and not be punished for speaking out against the pipeline.

“The State gave no explanation,” said Plainfield resident Karen Starr in the release. “It seems clever to avoid the spectacle of putting seniors on trial for defending future generations and the planet.”

According to the release, the Williston 6 view the pipeline as an unnecessary expansion of fossil fuel infratstructure in the state, that increases reliance on fracked gas within Vermont.

Calls to Donovan’s office inquiring as to the reason for dropping the charges were not returned by press time.