Protesters March Against Fossil-Fuel Expansion

The mile-long march was the largest protest yet of a proposed natural-gas power plant and expansion of a natural-gas pipeline. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

The mile-long march was the largest protest yet of a proposed natural-gas power plant and expansion of a natural-gas pipeline. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Eight activists arrested at fourth demonstration of the year at natural-gas compressor station in Burriville, R.I.

Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

BURRIVILLE, R.I. — The largest peaceful demonstration against the proposed pipeline and power plant projects also led to the most arrests yet. Eight protesters were charged with trespassing following a Dec. 5 march and rally on Wallum Lake Road.

Those arrested include Sister Mary Mary Pendergast, the ecology director with the Cumberland branch of Sisters of Mercy. Pendergast, 69, was arrested but not handcuffed as she attempted to plant tulips near the entrance to the Algonquin natural-gas compressor station.

Others arrested were: Sally J. Mendzela, 68, of North Providence;  Stephanie Strub, 28, of Pawtucket; Marisa Shea, 29, of Lowell, Mass.; Andrea Doremus-Cuetara, 57, of West Roxbury, Mass.; Gabriel Shipiro, 19, of Ithaca, N.Y.; Kyle Shulz, 26, of Worcester, Mass.; and Lauren Niedel-Gresh, 53, of Glocester.

Opposition has grown in the past two years as two energy projects were advanced in town: a $700 million natural-gas power plant and a major build-out of the Algonquin pipeline compressor station. Both feed off the Algonquin natural-gas pipeline, owned by Houston-based Spectra Energy, which runs from New Jersey to distribution hubs outside Boston.

Dozens of opposition groups have emerged to protest the pipeline’s expansion. Opponents claim the pipeline creates new health and safety problems along its 1,200-mile route. They say it also compounds the environmental risks from fracking, the gas-extraction method used for the natural gas delivered to the Northeast from Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Local residents say noise from the compressor station has worsened in the past two years and they worry the sound will become overbearing in the typically peaceful, rural community.

“Aw, the noise is brutal,” said one resident who declined to give his name and lives across the street from the entrance to the compressor station.

Another neighbor hoped to receive a buyout offer from the developers so he could move to a quieter home.

Jeannine Fortin, who lives a mile from the project site, watched the recent parade of protesters with her grandson. She said the new power plant makes her town a dumping ground for fossil-fuel power plants as it already hosts the largest power generator in Rhode Island.

“I don’t want it here. I don’t want the pollution. I don’t want the noise,” she said. “I don’t want another power plant taking over my town.”

All eight activists were arrested after the mile-long march and rally outside a home across from the entrance to the compressor station. The arrests were part of a coordinated action. Five were apprehended after they stepped a few feet onto Spectra property. Three others were apprehended as they entered through the woods and attempted to reach the construction site.

Heather Doyle of Washington, D.C., was one of the marchers. She spent 40 days in a county jail after protesting the construction of the Dominion liquefied natural gas export facility in Lusby, Md. She said the protests are intended to draw attention to the projects and increase public opposition.

“By the time the community finds out about all this stuff, it’s usually too late to do anything about it,” Doyle said.

There have been three actions this year that led to arrests at the Burrillville site: Two activists were arrested after a tree-sit in May; two protesters were arrested after chaining themselves to the entrance gate of the compressor station in mid-August; and three others were arrested in early November for trespassing and locking themselves to construction equipment.

Kathy Martley, a founder of Burrillville Against Spectra Expansion, said more residents are showing up at Town Council meetings to contest the projects. She expects the largest crowd yet at the Dec. 9 council meeting.