RANDOLPH – Environmental activists came to the home of the commissioner of the state’s Public Service Department to demonstrate their displeasure the proposed natural gas pipeline running through the state.
According to Henry Harris, a spokesman for a group calling itself the People’s Department of Environmental Justice, shortly after 6 a.m., he and others went to the home of Commissioner Chris Recchia and attempted to serve him paperwork to seize Recchia’s land on behalf of the organization.
“We were there to serve Mr. Recchia notice that we were seizing his property,” said Harris, a 37-year-old carpenter from Plainfield.
The action is the latest in a number of demonstrations condemning the Vermont Gas Systems Pipeline being constructed in Addison and Chittenden counties, which has resulted in a handful of private properties being seized in the name of eminent domain.
In September, six people were arrested for blocking the entrance to Vermont Gas Systems in Williston.
“I told them I wouldn’t sign it, I wouldn’t look at it and to get off my property,” said Recchia, who called the police.
Both Harris and Recchia agreed with each others accounts of what happened next: the demonstrators turned Recchia’s driveway into a mock construction zone, complete with traffic cones, caution tape, stakes and lines spray painted on the blacktop.
“It was typical of what someone would do if they were marking the path of a pipeline,” Recchia said.
Demonstrators also erected a small version of an oil derrick, a prop that has been seen during environmental demonstrations in downtown Montpelier.
Both sides also agree that at least two of the demonstrators fired up chainsaws – without chains in them – and pretended to cut down lilac and maple trees in Recchia’s front yard. There was no damage to the trees.
“The scariest part were the chainsaws,” said Recchia, who said he feared for his and his family’s safety. “Reasonable people can disagree and hold differing positions, but this felt like more than a protest. This felt like an intrusion to my security.”
Harris referred to the action as “a very light-hearted principled act” and said it should be viewed in the context of the real damage property owners are experiencing when their land is seized through eminent domain.
Harris said the demonstrators were, for the most part, elderly, and noted that the person who attempted to give Recchia the paperwork was a 75-year-old man who is legally blind.
“Any statement’s from Mr. Recchia that he felt he was actually in danger is politically motivated and an attempt to discredit us,” Harris said. “We are Vermonters who don’t have the means to address the climate crisis that the Shumlin Administration is ignoring.”
In a statement, Gov. Peter Shumlin condemned the demonstration.
“These types of intimidation tactics have no place in Vermont or in our public discourse,” Shumlin said. “We embrace the rights of Vermonters to express their opinions about public policy matters. What happened this morning, however, is completely unacceptable.”
The demonstrators dispersed before police arrived, leaving behind everything, including the oil derrick.
“That derrick will not be used again in another protest,” Recchia said.
Harris did not rule out a return to Recchia’s property.
“We see a lot of use for the property, and we are not done with our action with Mr. Recchia,” Harris said.