Energy Company Wants Protesters to Pay Restitution

In September Nick Katkevich and two fellow protesters bound themselves to equipment at a natural-gas compressor station. No equipment was damaged but the Houston-based energy company is seeking $30,000 in restitution. (FANG)

In September Nick Katkevich and two fellow protesters bound themselves to equipment at a natural-gas compressor station. No equipment was damaged but the Houston-based energy company is seeking $30,000 in restitution. (FANG)

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Three climate activists who bound themselves to construction equipment at the Burrillville, R.I., natural-gas compressor station are looking at a big legal charge.

The town’s attorney, Oleg Nikolyszyn, is seeking $30,000 restitution to be paid to Spectra Energy for the time and labor the Houston-based company lost during the Sept. 14 protest at the Algonquin pipeline transmission station.

“There was a huge amount of costs that three individuals ended up costing the company,” Nikolyszyn said. An estimated 45 to 70 employees stopped work during the dawn protest.

One of those arrested, Nick Katkevich, said he and his fellow protesters, who were all charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct, don’t intend to pay for the three hours they delayed construction at the 16-acre site.

The industrial-size pump station is one of several that push natural gas along a pipeline from New Jersey to a distribution hub in Everett, Mass. The Burrillville facility is adding a 15,900-horsepower engine to increase the volume of natural gas pushed through the 62-year-old pipeline.

The expansion of the compressor station and the pipeline has sparked many protests along its 1,200-mile route. Opponents say the pipeline poses health and environmental risks and bolsters the controversial natural-gas extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Much of the natural gas running through the pipeline comes from fracking fields in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

There have been several actions by climate activists at the Burrillville site within the past year, including a tree-sit in May. Two protestors paid about $400 in court fees after chaining themselves to the entrance gate of the compressor state in mid-August.

Nikolyszyn said he wants no such deal for Katkevich and co-defendants Matt Smith and Keith Clougherty. He told their defense attorney that he wanted a conviction “and no deals short of a conviction.”

As a result, the defense attorney has moved the case from Providence District Court to Rhode Island Superior Court, where a jury may decide the punishment.

Katkevich said the fine is excessive and that no damage was done to any equipment. Instead, he said, the pricey penalty is being used to set an example.

“They think if they stick us with restitution and don’t budge on it, it would be a deterrent,” he said.

In August, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced plans for a $700 million natural gas-fired power plant on land next to the compressor station. The proposal was met with considerable opposition from environmentalists and climate activists.