Auburn police arrest 3 oil train protestors

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Jessie Dowling is arrested by behind Denny's in Auburn on Wednesday night after defying orders to get off the train tracks during a protest over oil being transported by rail.

AUBURN — The way Jessie Dowling sees it, getting arrested is the very least she can do.

More coverage: Crude oil low on fire chief's danger list

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Jessie Dowling, Douglas Bowen Jr. and Meaghan LaSala defy orders from Auburn police to move off the railroad tracks next to Denny's in Auburn on Wednesday evening during a protest against oil being transported over the railways. They were eventually arrested without incident.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Marie Zwicker of Sullivan holds a sign for passing cars to see in front of Denny's in Auburn on Wednesday. Several dozen people came to protest the shipment of oil by trains; three were arrested.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Phyllis Coelho of Belfast pretends to be overcome by fumes as she and Lew McGregor of Hope pretend to clean up an oil spill Wednesday night in Auburn where several dozen people came out to protest the shipments of oil by rail. Three were arrested without incident.

"We need to put our bodies on the line," the 32-year-old Unity woman said, just before being led into a police van for the short ride to jail. "We don't want another Lac-Megantic."

And there, in one simple sentence, was the thrust of the event.

Dowling was one of three people arrested Wednesday as more than 100 people showed up in Auburn to protest the transportation of crude oil by rail.

The scene of their protest? The railroad tracks near Denny's on Court Street, a site they say is one of many across Maine where a disaster could strike at any time.

"The tracks have not been upgraded," said a 68-year-old grandmother who called herself Andy, "and they're bringing more and more oil through Maine, through heavily populated areas."

The protest was organized by 350 Maine and Maine Earth First!, the environmental groups that blockaded an oil train in Fairfield in June. The groups are calling for a moratorium on the transport of the same oil product being transported when a train crashed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last month and killed close to 50 people.

"What if that were to happen around here?" said protester Ed Bonenfant of Randolph. "It's not just a danger to human life, it's a danger to the environment."

Shortly after 5 p.m., the groups gathered at Great Falls Plaza to prepare for the event. There were young people and old people, men and women. Most were veterans of protest. There were no signs of nervousness or second thoughts as they began the march up Pleasant Street hill toward the railroad tracks.

"A few of you are going to be arrested," said Jim Freeman, of Earth First!. "Good luck, everybody. Love ya."

Freeman led the group to the railroad tracks near Denny's. Nobody was nervous, he said, because they believe in their cause. For the most part, they knew what to expect. The aim was to get their message across to as many people as possible.

"We've been doing this for a long time," he said.

Along the tracks between Denny's and the Auburn Public Library, it became apparent at once that police knew about this planned protest and they were ready. As the protesters huddled, unfurling a massive swatch of black fabric meant to look like an oil spill, nearly a dozen police officers watched. They kept their distance. The officers were only there, they said, to keep laws from being broken.

"We're here mostly to enforce criminal trespass laws," Auburn Lt. Tim Cougle said.

For the next hour, there was shouting and honking horns. The press swarmed like black flies and the police presence grew. All according to plan, as far as the protest groups were concerned. With afternoon commuters gawking and people passing by to see what the fracas was about, Earth First! was able to hand out informational packets and speak with people who wanted to learn more.

"What is this?" said Doris Cobb, who had just pulled into the Denny's parking lot. "I was trying to read the signs, but there were people in my way. I thought something bad had happened."

If her view had not been obstructed, she would have read a rich variety of signs. T-shirts, too. "Assert local control," several signs read. "Trains for people, not for oil," stated another, and "Oil trains derail life."

A protester spotted Doris Cobb with a look of bewilderment on her face.

"Would you like some information about all this?" the protester asked.

"Yes," said Cobb. "I would."

The two got to talking and information was shared. Which is exactly the idea, according to those who travel around the state — and well beyond Maine, if needed — to raise awareness.

"It's important," Bob Guethlen said. "That's why we're here. We're all in this together."

Guethlen was there with his wife, Diane, down from the Moosehead Lake Region where they lived for a time off the grid. They are veterans of these types of events, meant to bring about change through peaceful (but sometimes loud) means.

"These are good people," Bob said. "It's a good group."

But to get the message across, good people occasionally have to do bad things; bad, at least, in the eyes of the law.

Shortly after 6 p.m., Dowling, another woman and a lone man walked down the railroad tracks to the muffler shop. They had been warned by police to stay off the tracks, but they went, anyway. They sat down. They refused to budge.

"I'm giving you a warning," said Auburn police Sgt. Gary Boulet. "You're going to have to move off the tracks."

There was no trace of hostility in the lieutenant's voice. He and the other officers had been briefed earlier in the day. They knew they might have to arrest people, even if those people at least believed they were doing something good.

A few seconds later, it happened. Officers moved in. The trio on the tracks refused to move. There was the solemn snick of handcuffs clamping shut and it was official: They were under arrest on charges of criminal trespassing.

"No fracked oil!' shouted Douglas Bowen Jr., a 67-year-old protester from Porter who was arrested.

Meghan LaSala, 27, of Portland, smiled serenely as a police officer guided her into the back of the windowless van.

The arrests were about as anticlimactic as could be.

"This has been very cordial, in my experience," said Will Neils, a man serving as a liaison between police and the protesters. "I expect nothing less from law enforcement. These are Maine officers and this is all about Maine."

The three were booked at the Androscoggin County Jail. They were later released on $300 bail.

The protesters came to be noticed and they were.

"I don't know anything about trains," said one woman who lived nearby, "other than the fact that they annoy me when they go by in the middle of the night."

One of the Earth First! members explained to her the dangers of crude oil. Trains running through Maine carry it from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota, the protester said. Bakken oil is “fracked” — extracted by blasting a high-pressure, toxic cocktail deep into the ground to release the oil from shale rock, polluting air and water in surrounding communities, the activist said.

The two groups are calling on communities to perform citizen inspections of train tracks throughout the state. Betsy Catlin, who was arrested at the June blockade in Fairfield said, “Community inspections are necessary. Both companies, and state and federal governments have failed to do critical track maintenance to lower the risks of derailments.”

For the grandmother who called herself Andy, it was time to go home, regroup and wait for the next assignment. She's been at it since 2000 and has no plan to stop. Two years ago, she was arrested in front of the White House while protesting climate issues.

"And you know what?" she said. "My grandkids were really proud of me. That's part of what keeps me at this. I made a promise to my first grandchild that there would still be polar bears living in the Arctic when she grows up. I plan to keep going with this for a very long time."

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Why is she smiling?

Jessie looks like she just got that cute cop's phone number for a date after she gets released...

Steve  Dosh's picture

Slednecks , 11:20 am - ish

Slednecks , 11:20 am - ish hst ? Thursday
. . †hese are the same eco - terrorists who came in from Ohio several years protesting DeCoster's chickens, aren't they ?
Q: What is your eco friendly , cost effective and efficient alternative to trains for transportation ? Walking ? Bikes ? Hitchhiking ? A: Cars , planes , and police vehicles are much less tax effective or eco - friendly
/s , Dr. Dosh and ohana , Pahoa HI , rail ƒans ( AMTRAK® frequent rider # 7011839165 Rewards @ number )
Get a liƒe already . In my back yard ---> <-- literally • 

Eric  LeBlanc's picture

I wish they all had been tased

I bet that would knock that smirk off their faces.

Jane Ryerson's picture

oil train protesters arrested.

The most safest and efficient way to transport crude oil/gas etc., is through the pipeline. If they would get this through their protesting skulls they would be working on helping to expand this network of transportion, however, these people who have nothing better to do then protest are more than likely the same people who want us to depend on the government for our healthcare etc.

These idiots ought to get a job and do something constructive and make positive changes.

Mike Lachance's picture

No shipping fracked Oil? (But

No shipping fracked Oil?
(But its ok to ship Liquid Oxygen, Toluene, Anhydrous ammonia, Chlorine, Sulfuric acid, etc?)

Any further commentary might be equally toxic.

 's picture

I would have asked them where

I would have asked them where their horse and buggy were. Surely they wouldn't have used a combustion engine to get to the plaza.

Catherine Pressey's picture

Horse and Buggy

I would have used one, but your right they like to stay warm, get from one place to the other. I figure trains are safer than pipe lines just look at the broken pipeline down south. People driven from their homes. and others sick. It all goes with living in this world we call progressive.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

If they only knew??????

If They only knew what some of the other crap that's being shipped by rail was. Oil might seem pretty tame in comparison. All those chemical tankers aren't just for show. Man, I thought I had way to much free time on my hands.......................

Bob White's picture

These people

They are probably the same people that were wanting to use rail to transport goods because trains can carry way more then trucks can so it is more green. When I was younger there was a big push to use plastic bags because we were going to run out of trees but now look plastic is bad. Go figure.

 's picture

$300 each

Take that times 3 and we now have $900 dollars more in the county coffers.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Slednecks , 11:30 am - ish

Slednecks , 11:30 am - ish hst ? Thursday
. . Paid for all that hot air , gas and natural gas n e way huh , Rog ? ;)
/s , Dr. Dosh and ohana , HI , an old ƒart <-

Noel Foss's picture

The alternatives to transporting crude by rail are few

And they're more dangerous, prohibitively expensive and inefficient.

Don't want the oil shipped by rail? Then you're either using trucks or pipelines.

Shipping via truck is vastly more dangerous than shipping by rail, with an estimated 500,000 truck accidents per year (someone is killed or injured in a trucking accident every 16 minutes in the US). It's also much less expensive to ship commodity items via train than it is to do so via truck, thanks to things like economies of scale, lower rolling resistance, and longer periods of sustained speed.

Pipelines are extremely efficient...once they're built. However, initial costs of construction, maintenance and pumping costs have to be figured into the equation. Plus there's capacity limitations involved with pipelines. Where a railroad can meet increasing demand by increasing the number of trains carrying a product or increasing the number of cars carrying the product, Pipelines don't have the same degree of flexibility. To increase the volume carried by a pipeline, the fluid has to be pumped through it faster, or the pipeline has to be expanded. Pumping more fluid increases pressures, and they can only be increased so far before the pipeline ruptures (an obvious safety concern). Expanding a pipeline requires either completely rebuilding it or adding an additional pipeline along the same route, both of which are time-consuming and expensive.

I suppose the alternative is to simply stop transporting petroleum, but that creates an entirely new set of problems (and I bet that most of the protesters heat their homes with oil/kerosene/propane/natural gas, put gasoline or diesel in their cars and trucks, and drive on paved roads...)

Catherine Pressey's picture

And Pipelines, can distroy and kill also:

Not sure what state it was in some place in the south. Pipeline ruptured and displaced many citizens, that as of now can not go home. And others are having trouble breathing from the air born toxic smell. Rail is truely the only way, and what happened in Canada was human error, and breaking failure, tankers would not have ruptured if the trains crew were on board. And it was not a run away train. That sure is humans that did not think, safety issues totally disregarded. Rails should have been updated and rails should have been our main transport of many of our goods etc. Accidents can happen sadly. Human error for most of them.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

If idiots like these are

If idiots like these are allowed to have their way, a ban on over-the-road trucking is right around the corner.

Catherine Pressey's picture

If idiots like these:

Yes! They will have to get lots more of them arrested and many more numbers of them to ever stop our truckers or the rails, many of us understand that this stuff has to be moved somehow. Even if we grew up in the 60's, with flower childen and hippie attitudes, we like to stay warm. So much worst things to worry about. WAR etc.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

I always knew that someday

I always knew that someday you and I would agree on something. Never thought it would be over rails and oil, though.

Catherine Pressey's picture

If idiots like these:

Yes! They will have to get lots more of them arrested and many more numbers of them to ever stop our truckers or the rails, many of us understand that this stuff has to be moved somehow. Even if we grew up in the 60's, with flower childen and hippie attitudes, we like to stay warm. So much worst things to worry about. WAR etc.

Bob White's picture

I wonder?

I wonder how they got to the protest? I'm guessing they didn't all ride bicycles to it they probably drove a car which uses petroleum products. I hope these people aren't involved in protest that pertain to buying American we need the oil so instead of buying it from terrorist why don't we put Americans to work. Sure you tree huggers are going to say "we need to go green" well guess what I cant afford green!!!!! Why cant we work towards being green? Why do we have to stop shipping oil? Why cant we work on being green at a nice even affordable pace and why cant we just make the transport of oil safer?


Wish I'd known about this

I would have been there to support them!

they're idiots

"No fracked oil"? "Stop fracked oil in its tracks"?
No such thing. Fracking is for natural gas, not oil. If you want to be taken seriously, get the facts right.

And ditto David. There are far more harmful and dangerous materials transported by train every day than oil.

 's picture


Like you said, gets the facts right if you want to be taken seriously. Oil can be fracked and is fracked, a simple google search will tell you that. I do agree more harmful chemicals are transported everyday by train, but fracking is the trendy choice for protesters at the moment. Maybe they should go to North Dakota to protest fracking. Lac-Megantic was an accident caused by a generator that shut off and was never turned back on to hold pressure in brake lines. Human error, not track deficiencies.

Catherine Pressey's picture

Human error, not track deficiencies.

Nick I so agree, what happened was an accident, human error and machine break down. Tracks were OK, if the train was manned, the run away speed, caused the tracks to fail. Or the trail to jump them, no matter how we cut it we need oil, gas, and other chemicals. Rather they are on the trains than on the roads I travel. Railroads bought up the right of ways, and who are we to tell them what they can carry. Yes! this was a awful accident. Protesters need to look beyond their noses. My opinion cjp

My mistake

I was misinformed. So they are not idiots, merely fools. So, don't ship fracked oil? Which I guess means it's okay to ship oil extracted by more traditional means, then. I guess that includes oil sands oil (in fact, I thought "tar sands" oil was the trendy one to protest, not fracked oil...)

They are also fools for thinking that what happened in Lac Magantic can happen here.

And as already pointed out, chemicals that can release a toxic cloud are far worse than spilled oil.

Gary Grenier's picture


Nice catch, Wayne!

David  Cote's picture

One thing that needs mentioning...

Right now the protesters are focusing on oil. Don't they realize these tanker cars usually carry liquids and gases far more sinister than oil?

 's picture

Waited until they got out of work

So pleased that they waited until they got out of work for the day. Earn an honest day's wages, and then make noise and get noticed in the evening.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Slednecks , noon - ish hst ?

Slednecks , noon - ish hst ? Thursday
Bob ?
( and any other native Mainers including Passamoquoddy, Mic - Mac , Penobscot )
Raise your hand if you are - for - bring in inexpensive natural gas ( LNG - PNG ) from Lakota lands in ND and developing Maine seaports to receive it
It provides us jobs and burns clean
/s , Dr. Dosh and ohana , HI
We , in fact, are the 99%


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