Authorities have decided not to move forward with criminal charges against six demonstrators who erected a wooden barricade on a train line in Fairfield in June.
“After consultation with the Fairfield chief of police, the district attorney’s office is not bringing charges at this time, but could do so in the future,” said Somerset County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney.
The six Maine residents were each arrested and charged with criminal trespass on the night of June 27, when they staged a protest that blocked a Pan Am Railways train line and local traffic routes for about two hours.
The six are: Elizabeth Catherine Catlin, 23, of Brunswick; James Hall Freeman, 64, of Verona Island; Sarah Linneken, 35, of Brunswick; Read Debow Brugger, 63, of Freedom; Douglas M. Bowen, 67, of Porter; and Robert Edward Shaw, 66, of Belfast.
Brugger said the protesters arrived at a scheduled arraignment in Skowhegan District Court Thursday morning, when they learned it had been canceled.
Maloney said the office could decide to move forward with the criminal case at any time in the next three years, the statute of limitations.
She said any future criminal actions by the protesters could be taken into consideration.
“At this point, we didn’t see it as the top priority for our scarce resources,” she said. “But that could change in the future.”
The protesters, part of an environmental group called 350 Maine, said they were trying to bring awareness about Maine railways transporting oil procured through fracking, or hydraulic fracturing.
Fracking is a process in which oil is removed from shale by high-pressure water and chemical injections. Fracking opponents claim the process causes significant damage to the environment.
Brugger said he would have rather gone to trial than have the charges set aside.
In a trial, he said, the protesters had planned to subpoena information from Pan Am Railways that would have demonstrated that its tracks are unsafe.
Brugger said that, in speaking to lawyers before the protest, he knew a criminal trespass charge was likely, but a wider range of more serious charges and penalties were possible.
Criminal trespass is a class E crime, punishable by up to six months incarceration and a $1,000 fine.
Brugger said the deadly train crash in Lac Megantic, which took the lives of 47 people ten days after the protest, gave an added weight to the issue.
“This added a whole other dimension to it with loss of life,” he said. “It hadn’t been on my radar that this stuff was that explosive.”
Brugger said 350 Maine will continue to work to bring awareness to the issue, and plans to spread leaflets during the Great Falls Balloon Festival in Lewiston-Auburn this weekend.
A call to Pan Am Railways for comment was not returned before deadline.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287