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Community Builds Walden Pond Cabin in Thoreau-Inspired Fracking Pipeline Protest
You wouldn't suspect that a guy who builds things for a living would become the architect of a hugely popular symbol against the building of something else, but Will Elwell and his community of Ashfield, Massachusetts, have stumbled on just such a symbol. They are against the building of the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, which energy company Kinder Morgan subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company wants to trench through New York and Massachusetts to carry gas from the fracking fields of Pennsylvania to the coast.
Residents of this proud New England town (where also I live) and many others around it strongly object to the notion of a corporation "taking" private and public land for this giant project, including state forestland and parcels conserved in perpetuity by land trusts, and have repeatedly denied company requests to survey their properties and farms, which has slowed the proposal's progress. Meanwhile citizen groups are preparing for civil disobedience alongside an effective grassroots education campaign that has won the support of many local, state and federal politicians.
That emphasis on civil disobedience, and wondering what more he could do for the cause, is what really rang a bell in Will Elwell's head. A skilled timber framer, he offered to create a direct reference to beloved Massachusetts figure and father of this style of resistance, Henry David Thoreau, by erecting a replica of the great writer's cabin on the hayfield of his neighbor, which itself is directly in the path of the proposed pipeline. Some of the beams were even salvaged from an 1800s-era Massachusetts barn, making the historic figure and new structure contemporaries of sorts.
As noted widely in the progressive press (Democracy Now and Common Dreams) and international media (RT), an enthusiastic group of 30 neighbors, activists and even local politicians turned out to help Elwell raise the beams on a recent weekday, culminating in a picturesque symbol of defiance. In the coming weeks, a roof, walls, and wood stove will be added, but for now, the key components are a sign board and journal that visitors have been using daily to share their frustrations, fears and hopes for the future of this place without a pipeline.
“I wanted to do something that would show my discontent with the proposed pipeline," Elwell told me, “but in a creative and beautiful way. And I wanted to occupy the proposed pipeline pathway and stop the project. This is an important and tangible symbol, and represents a place of resistance which many, many, people can now identify and help occupy."
As far as ideas to rally around go, it's certainly an effective one. But how practical it is in real pipeline-pausing terms is a bigger question. One way that Elwell has answered that was by getting a building permit:
“A building permit is not required for any outbuilding that is less than 200 square feet, but we wanted it to be registered and on record, because in order to move or demolish it, that would require its own permit. That would help raise awareness of the intent, and we could prepare to occupy the cabin (before its possible demolition)."
Fellow Ashfield pipeline resistance organizer Jim Cutler hopes to use the cabin as a rallying point for further activism and envisions it as a space that will host speakers that are eloquent on the issues.
Elwell thinks this one cabin is not a big enough symbol, however, and hopes to see more of these local rallying points pop up along the pipeline's possible path. “I would like to see a structure at every intersection along the proposed route," he said.
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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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