August 29, 2013

Three arrested in protest on Auburn railroad tracks

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUBURN — Three protesters were arrested Wednesday night after staging a mock oil spill on railroad tracks in downtown Auburn.

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Three people were arrested Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 after staging an oil-train protest on railroad tracks in downtown Auburn, Maine.

Contributed photo

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Three people were arrested Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 after staging an oil-train protest on railroad tracks in downtown Auburn. The back of one of the protestors' shirts says, "Oil trains derail life."

Contributed photo

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Protesters said the demonstration on tracks near the Auburn Public Library was meant to raise public awareness about the danger of transporting crude oil by rail through densely populated towns and cities such as Auburn.

The environmental groups that were involved in Wednesday's protest – 350 Maine and Maine Earth First – organized a similar protest on railroad tracks in Fairfield in late June, about a week before a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

That train derailed and its tanker cars, carrying crude oil, exploded, destroying 40 buildings and killing 47 people.

The environmental groups said the rail line that passes through downtown Auburn is used by Pan Am Railways to transport crude oil. They say Pan Am Railways has recorded four derailments in 2013.

In March, a 96-car Pan Am Railways train carrying crude oil derailed in Mattawamkeag. Fifteen tanker cars tipped over, just yards from the Penobscot River, but only a few gallons of oil spilled.

The protesters' claims about the number of derailments could not be confirmed Wednesday night. The Massachusetts company's dispatch center referred questions to Executive Vice President Cynthia Scarano, who could not be reached.

"This is the same type of fuel that was going through Lac-Megantic," said Sass Linneken of Benton, who was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing during the protest in Fairfield. "They use (rail) cars that are notorious for coming apart during a derailment."

Linneken said she hopes the protest will bring public attention to a growing concern -- that a train carrying crude oil could derail and harm people in a populated area.

Both environmental groups are calling for a moratorium on the transportation of crude oil by train through Maine.

They urged Maine's U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud to take "bold action."

"(Governor) LePage's executive order to review rail safety has no teeth. We're calling for a moratorium on oil transport. We are asserting our rights to health and safety," Linneken said in a news release.

Linneken and protester Betsy Catlin said the demonstration that started around 6:30 p.m. didn't last long.

Catlin said protesters created a mock oil spill by laying a large black tarp over the tracks. Auburn police arrived moments later and asked the crowd of about 40 people to disperse.

No trains passed through the area during that time.

Three of the protesters chose to sit on the tracks. Police officers asked them to move off the tracks. When they refused, they were handcuffed and taken into custody.

Auburn police did not return phone messages, but an officer at the Androscoggin County Jail said all three protesters paid $60 cash bail and were released Wednesday night.

Jail officials said Douglas Bowen, 67, of Porter, Jessica Dowling, 32, of Unity and Meaghan LaSala, 26, of Portland were charged with criminal trespassing.

LaSala anticipated that she would be arrested and issued a statement before the protest, saying, "Fossil fuels have never been safe. For as long as humans have been pulling this stuff out of the ground, communities at every point of development have been treated as expendable. And now the stability of our planet is at stake."

Protesters said the trains that are passing through Maine are carrying crude oil from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. They said the oil is "fracked," extracted from shale rock by blasting chemicals at high pressure deep underground.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

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