SOMERSET — Carrying hand-made banners and models of wind turbines and solar panels, an estimated 350 protesters — some from Westport and Little Compton — marched here on Sunday from a local playground to the Brayton Point Power Station, calling on Governor Deval Patrick, to shut the facility down.
For the hour they walked down Brayton Point Road in the shadow of two cooling towers they chanted their messages. “Brayton Point, shut it down (repeated),” or “Dirty coal, shut it down (repeated),” or the rhythmic mantras, “No coal, no way, shut down Brayton Point today,” or “We won’t stand down, we won’t stand back, we’ll stop this coal plant in its tracks.”
At the end of the three-quarter mile trek, 45 of the protesters — all volunteers, wearing red shirts and trained the day before in non-violent civil disobedience, stepped forward.
In small groups of a few or so, group by group, they crossed the power company’s property line, denoted by yellow crime scene tape which they’d broken, to be charged with trespassing.
The arrest actions had been carefully choreographed ahead of time in meetings between protest leaders and the police. Over 40 police officers, under the command of the Somerset Police Department, awaited them.
All who crossed the line were taken into custody, charged, flex-cuffed with their hands behind their backs, and led away a few hundred feet beyond a fence and into the power plant.
From there they were transported in police vans to the Dwelly Street National Guard Armory in Fall River.
Two thus transported said they, and the 10-12 others with them in their vans —and now in the custody of the Bristol County Sheriff’s Department — were required to wait about an hour inside the vans while the arrestees were processed. The vans lacked ventilation or air conditioning.
The arrests began at the power plant gates around 12 noon in front of the power plant, and many of those arrested didn’t leave the Dwelly Street Armory until 7:30 that night after processing had been completed.
Of those arrested, three were from Rhode Island, including the oldest, Frederick Caswell, 86, from Middletown. The other two were Beth Milham, 71, of Newport, and Sherrie Ann Andre, 24, of Warren, Rhode Island.
Of her arrest, Ms. Andre, a housing advocate who studied at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, said, “it was an opportunity to reflect on the people who are affected by the coal plant.”
She works on an Indian Reservation in South Dakota, she said. “I participated in the protest because I strongly believe in the plant closing. I work with survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and believe in making people aware of the connection between that type of violence and the issues of environmental destruction.”
Others arrested were from New York (1), Vermont (1), Pennsylvania (2), Connecticut (1), and Massachusetts (37).
The median age of those arrested was 54 years old; 13 were over 65 years of age. The youngest was 19, and 10 arrestees were in their 20’s.
The rally, and police preparation
The day of protest began with a rally at 9 a.m. at the Edward J. O’Neill Memorial Playground in Somerset. Protesters arrived in personal cars, by chartered school buses, and a few on bikes.
Police were stationed In the playground area, and all along the road and at intersections.
Somerset Police Chief Joseph C. Ferreira said about 100 law enforcement officers provided assistance to local police in Sunday’s action.
He said the mutual aid came from other communities, the Bristol County Sheriff’s Department, the Massachusetts State Police, and environmental police.
There were also, he said, 20 officers from the Southeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (SEMLAC), a tactical unit wearing military uniforms under the joint command of the state police and local police department.
National actions, and climate change
The protest was one of about eight scheduled during July across the country, in what the organization coordinating them (350.0rg) calls “Summer Heat.”
Other parallel actions are planned or have taken place in Utah, Washington, D.C., Maine, Ohio, Oregon, Michigan, California, and Washington State.
They all have in common the goal of focusing on the fossil fuel industry and the destructive and global effects of climate change.
The organizers of Sunday’s action at Brayton Point say that the power station is “the largest coal and gas-fired power plant in New England,” and that every year it “emits millions of tons of carbon dioxide” and “15,000 pounds of dangerous pollutants such as arsenic and mercury.”
In addition to the shut-down, the protesters are demanding that Governor Patrick ensure “a just transition for workers and communities” in the move to what they termed had to be “a healthy and sustainable future.”
This should include job retraining and state financial support for affected communities.
Local citizens speak out
Speaking at the Sunday rally in the playground before the march was Dave Dionne, 59, a housepainter from Westport who said he’s been working on the Brayton Point issue for 16 years.
To end reliance on fossil fuels, he said, “it’s going to take strident action. Apartheit and segregation and fossil fuels — they can’t be mitigated. They have to be ended. You can’t mitigate the economic system that uses fossil fuels.”
Also among those at the rally were Betty Torphy and Jana Porter from Little Compton, Rhode Island, a few miles south of the plant as the crow flies.
“We’re all downwinders when it comes to the effects of Brayton Point,” Ms. Torphy said. “I just saw a sign over there that says why I’m here. To do nothing is insanity, it says. We all have a responsibility to do something. Each of us has to find something we can do.”
Tom Clemow, a retired chemist from Little Compton was also there. “We can’t have power plants that put pollutants in the air at no cost,” he said. “These guys don’t have to pay for putting that stuff out — carbon dioxide, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide. And coal ash, which is sold waste.”
Mr. Clemow said, “any seacoast town has reason to care. I was flabbergasted to find other people from Little Compton there who cared enough to also attend.”
The power plant responds
In response to the protest, Dominion, the corporate owner of the Brayton Point Power Plant, released a statement from spokesman Richard Zuercher.
“The Brayton Point Power Station – capable of powering up to 1.6 million homes — is one of the cleanest electricity generators of its kind and is in compliance with all environmental regulations,” Mr. Zuercher said.
“More than $1 billion has been invested in recent years to reduce its impact on the air and water significantly,” he said.
Mr. Zuercher said, “Facilities such as Brayton Point are badly needed in New England both to help keep down the cost of electricity – already the highest in the continental United States – and ensure reliability. It also serves as an important contributor to the local economy.”
Legal preparations, consequences
Somerset Police Chief Ferreira said those arrested face trespass charges (under Chapter 266, Section 120 of Massachusetts law), that could result in a maximum fine of $100 or 30 days in jail, or both. All will be arraigned over the next two weeks, he said, in Fall River District Court. After their arrest Sunday, all were released on $40 cash bail.
He said protesters and police had met before the event a number of times. “They were forthright and honest and did exactly as they said they would do.” The action plan, he said, was “extremely thorough,” and nothing unexpected occurred.
On Saturday, the day before the protest, organizers met with those who had volunteered to be arrested, to provide training and instruction in civil disobedience.
The protest organizers had assigned individuals who handled legal affairs, jail support, arts and culture, food preparation, medical assistance, and who acted as march marshals.