6 arrested after blocking Fairfield train tracks during protest of fracked oil

Posted June 27, 2013, at 6:39 p.m.
Last modified June 28, 2013, at 12:55 p.m.

FAIRFIELD, Maine — Six people protesting the transportation of crude oil passing through the state were arrested late Thursday night.

Members of 350 Maine — a statewide group whose stated goal is addressing the climate crisis — erected a large wooden frame to hold a sign that read “Stop Fracked Oil” across the railroad tracks along Lawrence Avenue.

About 20 police vehicles from six departments responded to the protest, including Fairfield, Waterville, Winslow and Oakland police departments, Maine State Police and the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Department.

“We got a call that a group of people had blocked off the intersection of Lawrence and Main,” said interim Fairfield Police Chief Joe Massey. “When the officers got on scene, there were 20-25-30 people in the intersection. They had out cones across Lawrence Avenue. We told them they had to move them and they complied. It really wasn’t much of a problem.

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“They walked a short distance up here to the railroad tracks where they erected a large sign over the tracks,” he said. “We let them protest as long as we could.”

Massey told the crowd at about 9:30 p.m. that it had 10 minutes to disperse, and those who didn’t would be arrested. The six people who were arrested were charged with criminal trespassing and taken to Somerset County Jail in Madison.

Arrested were: Elizabeth Catlin, 23, of Brunswick; James Freeman, 64, of Verona Island; Sarah Linneken, 35, of Brunswick; Read Brugger, 63, of Freedom; Douglas Bowen, 67, of Porter; and Robert Shaw, 66, of Belfast.

Meaghan LaSala, an organizer with 350 Maine, said the group was trying to stop a train heading to Canada. The train was supposedly hauling crude oil that was fracked from the Bakken Oil fields of North Dakota.

She said the way the oil is extracted is dangerous to the environment, and there was a great risk of the train derailing and spilling oil into nearby water.

The group’s mission was to bring the public’s attention to the practice of fracking. A group of nearly 100 stopped to watch the protesters before being asked to disperse by police. Some supported the protesters, while others cheered when some were arrested.

Read Brugger of Freedom was one of the protesters who was arrested.

“We feel there has not been enough awareness about the millions of gallons of crude shell oil that shipped across Maine each month,” said Brugger. “We feel need to move beyond fossil fuels and get away from the poisonous ways oil is being extracted.”

Many onlookers were curious and stopped to see why so many police vehicles were on scene.

“I thought the [gas station] got robbed,” said Greg Bernatchez of Fairfield. “So I thought I’d stop by and see what’s going on.”

Many interviewed said they did not know that fracked oil was being transported through Maine.

“Our concern is the rails aren’t safe,” said Jim Freeman of Verona Island, who was also arrested.

The group points to two derailments in a less than a year as to why they believe the rails aren’t safe.

After the protesters were arrested and the crowd was dispersed, the group’s sign was dismantled with a chainsaw.

PanAm Railways was notified immediately of the protest, according to Massey, and a train never traveled through the intersection.

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