Politics

June 29, 2013

Accounts conflict on oil protest

Pan Am Railways and a demonstrator differ on whether a train carrying fracked oil was scheduled.

By KAITLIN SCHROEDER Morning Sentinel

FAIRFIELD - Railroad officials and protesters gave conflicting accounts on whether a train carrying fracked oil was expected to pass through town Thursday.

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Authorities approach members of 350 Maine and Earth First who blocked the railroad track crossing at Lawrence Avenue in Fairfield Thursday night to protest the transport of tracked oil on railroads. Six people were arrested.

Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

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One of about 30 protesters who tried to block a Pan Am Railways train by erecting a makeshift wooden scaffold on the railroad tracks said the group had tracked an inbound train since earlier that day, but a railroad official said no train was scheduled to run along the part of the track where the protest was Thursday evening.

Police arrested six of the protesters in downtown Fairfield Thursday night. Arrested for criminal trespass around 10:30 p.m. were 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.

The protesters arrived around 7:30 p.m., first blocking off a Main Street intersection near the tracks with traffic cones and a large banner. After police intervened, they walked about a block to the railroad tracks and erected the barricade, which consisted of two large posts connected by smaller crossbeams, and bore a sign that read, "Stop fracked oil. Maine earth first."

"Fracking" is short for hydraulic fracturing, a controversial process in which oil is removed from shale by high-power water and chemical injections.

Protesters believed the train was coming from North Dakota and heading to New Brunswick.

Pan Am Executive Vice President Cynthia Scarano said the company does transfer crude oil, but there was no train scheduled to carry oil from Waterville to New Brunswick Thursday. She would not say if there was one scheduled to carry it as far as Waterville Thursday. Freight train schedules are not public because of safety regulations, she said.

She said protests like Thursday's are also a safety issue, both for employees and the protesters.

"Safety is always our concern. That's why we're so against trespassers," she said.

Pan Am owns the track, which enters southern Maine in the Berwick area and follows the coast before going inland, through towns including Leeds, Winthrop and Belgrade, before it gets to Waterville.

While the line has several dead-end spurs, the main track enters New Brunswick near Vanceboro.

She said the North Billerica, Mass.-based company plans to work with local police and the district attorney's office to press charges against the six people who were arrested.

She said she doesn't know why the protesters thought a train carrying oil was coming through Thursday.

District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said Friday she has not reviewed the police reports.

Brugger, one of the arrested protesters, said another member of the group told him the train had passed through Oakland and told him how to identify it. Brugger said the train was seen at 3:35 p.m. as it passed under Interstate 95 near County Road.

He said the protest was more about promoting awareness about fracking than whether the group encountered a train at that intersection.

"To us, it was enough that it was in the Waterville rail yard," he said.

The protesters grouped around the scaffold for about two hours, drawing police from Fairfield, the Kennebec County Sheriff's Department, Maine State Police and other agencies.

A crowd of onlookers also gathered to watch the drama unfold.

The protest was led by 350 Maine, a statewide grassroots group of environmental activists that says on its website it "celebrates courageous and playful strategies to inform Mainers and move us toward a future that is fossil-fuel free."

The group's name is derived from the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide parts per million in the atmosphere, 350 parts per million. Carbon dioxide levels are now at 392 parts per million, according to the group's website.

The action was taken to call attention to climate change and prevent about 70,000 barrels of oil from reaching New Brunswick, according to Meaghan LaSala, one of the protest's organizers and a member of 350 Maine.

According to LaSala, a train carrying 70,000 barrels of crude oil from North Dakota was scheduled to travel through Fairfield on the track.

Kaitlin Schroeder can be contacted at 861-9252 or at:

kschroeder@mainetoday.com

 

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