AUGUSTA — Occupy Augusta’s encampment in Capitol Park could be approaching its end.

Capitol Police have allowed protesters to stay in the park since Oct. 15, despite rules that require a permit from the Department of Public Safety for any sort of demonstration.

On Friday, however, Capitol Police Chief Russ Gauvin told protesters they must apply for a permit by Monday.

“I told them they need a permit to be there; and if they do not have a permit, then they will have to remove their tents,” he said Saturday, “and if they don’t, then we will remove them.”

Jim Freeman of Verona Island, who camps in the park a couple of nights a week, said he and the other protesters do not intend to apply for a permit or to end their round-the-clock occupation.

“It’s based on our right to free speech,” Freeman said. “We’re not really hurting anyone, being in the park.”

Occupy Augusta members are asking sympathizers to attend a rally in the park at noon today to support the camp.

Freeman and other protesters will meet with Gauvin on Monday morning to plead their case.

From the start, Gauvin said he and other public safety officials would assess the situation in Capitol Park daily to decide whether the protesters could stay.

Overnight use of the park typically is not allowed, but Gauvin said he wanted to balance enforcement of the rules with the protesters’ rights to free speech and assembly.

“It’s been a very close balance all along, and we think it’s tipped the other way,” he said Saturday.

Gauvin said he does not know of any criminal activity at Occupy Augusta, but the campers are causing damage to the grounds, and other people have complained that they can’t use the park.

The Occupy movement encompasses a variety of concerns, but central complaints include corporate power, the outsize influence of wealthy companies and individuals on politics and widening gaps in income .

Gauvin said he’d grant a permit to leave one structure standing in Capitol Park and for protesters to gather there during the day, but not for overnight camping.

For their part, Occupy Augusta members will dismantle several lightweight tents, but they want to keep a large tent suitable for winter use and a tepee built with help from the Penobscot Nation. Those would house about 20 campers, Freeman said.

Protesters need to have someone in the park overnight to keep the structures secure, Freeman said.

Gauvin said there is no firm deadline for protesters to get a permit and comply with its terms, but Capitol Police could break up the camp sometime after Monday.

Freeman said Occupy Augusta members so far have worked well with Gauvin and the Capitol Police, but the protesters will stand firm if police try to remove them.

They also plan to go to federal court to try to block any action against them, he said.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at:

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