Two protesters who locked themselves to the front doors of the TD Bank branch at 481 Congress St. late Wednesday morning, blocking the main entrance to the bank, were arrested about two hours later when police removed the door handles.
Authorities identified the protesters as Elizabeth “Betsy” Catlin of Brunswick and Seth Schlotterbeck — aka Sylvia Stormwalker — of Auburn, who said they are members of a group called “Maine Trans and/or Women’s Action Team.” They said they were protesting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and said TD Bank was an investor in the pipeline, which carries tar sands oil to refineries in Port Arthur and Houston, Texas.
Catlin and Schlotterbeck attached U-shape bike locks around their necks to the handles of each of the bank’s doors around 11:30 a.m. and sat on the doorstep holding a banner between them that read, “Solidarity with the South. You are in our hearts.”
A Canadian company, TransCanada, began delivering oil from a hub in Cushing, Okla., to customers in Nederland, Texas, early Wednesday. The company expects to complete a smaller pipeline that will transport oil from Nederland to refineries near Houston later this year, according to The Associated Press.
The $2.3 billion pipeline from Cushing to Texas is the Gulf Coast portion of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The longer Keystone XL, which would transport heavy tar sands crude from Canada and oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale oil fields, requires a permit from President Obama because it crosses an international border. That $5.4 billion segment has not yet been approved. Obama fast-tracked the shorter, southern portion of the pipeline with the hope of relieving a bottleneck in Oklahoma, The Associated Press reported.
“Today, organizers in Oklahoma and Texas were asking people to raise awareness,” said Schlotterbeck, who identifies herself as Sylvia Stormwalker. Speaking before Portland police arrived and used yellow police tape to block the sidewalk in front of the bank entrance, she said, “We’re responding to a call from those communities.”
Both Schlotterbeck and Catlin said they hoped that bank executives would come talk to them in response to the protesters locking themselves to the bank doors. But that didn’t happen.
The protest caused the bank to close only briefly, as customers were able to use another entrance to enter the bank. About 25 protesters stood on the sidewalk in support of Schlotterbeck and Catlin. Dressed in layers with hats and gloves, they handed out cups of hot chocolate as temperatures hovered around 15 degrees and distributed leaflets to curious passers-by.
“Tar sands is currently destroying the place we all call home,” said Meg Gilmartin of Belgrade. “It’s necessary for all of us to take action for the communities being put at risk and the planet we all share.”
Gilmartin took turns with others holding a second banner that said, “TD Bank we fund tar sands,” as members of the group sang, “We don’t want your dirty oil. Keep the tar sands in the soil.”
The pipeline has become a rallying point with environmental advocacy groups such as 350.org and the Sierra Club.
The protest drew at least a half-dozen police, who began arriving after noon. Police first tried to remove the bank’s door handles from the inside before using bolt cutters to cut the handles from the outside just before 1:30 p.m.
Lauren Moyer, a spokeswoman for TD Bank, said she was aware of the protest but declined to address the accusations brought against the company by the protesters.
“TD Bank supports responsible energy development. We employ rigorous due diligence in our financing and investing activities relating to energy production,” Moyer said. “We support everyone’s right to safely and respectfully protest. TD is committed to providing a safe environment for our employees and customers. This is our number one priority as we continue to monitor events as they occur.”
Catlin, 23, was charged with criminal trespassing. Schlotterbeck, 30, was charged with trespassing and criminal mischief. They were taken away in the back of a police cruiser with the bike locks still around their necks and handcuffs behind their backs.
Scott Dolan can be reached at 791-6304 or at:email@example.comTwitter: @scottddolan