Auburn Oil Train Blockade: Superior Court Hearing



Sass Linneken

Jessie Dowling

Hearing On Oil Trains, Awaiting Judge’s Decision

Auburn Oil Train Blockade: Superior Court Hearing

Auburn, ME: 

Early Thursday morning, two of the three people who were arrested while blockading the railroad tracks in Auburn last August had a hearing at the Androscoggin County Superior Court.  At around 9:00 am, close to fifty people gathered outside the court house to rally in support of the defendants, before filing inside to attend close to three hours of proceedings. 

The defense presented its position that a competing harms defense has relevancy in the case. A competing harms defense would mean that the defendants would be able to use evidence that proves they were breaking the law in order to prevent a larger disaster from occurring, such as the devastating oil train rail derailment that killed 47 in Lac Megantic Quebec in July, 2013.

Jessie Dowling, of Whitefield, is one of three arrestees who conducted a sit-in on the Pan Am railroad tracks in the center of Auburn last August to call attention to the ongoing dangers posed by the transportation of Bakken crude oil by rail. 

Dowling explained the significance of Thursday’s hearing. “The judge will decide whether we are allowed to address the real issues in our trial. Oil trains pose an imminent danger, and are threatening communities across the country, including ours,” Dowling said.

Fracked oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota caused the massive train explosion in Lac Megantic, and have been involved in at least six derailments since, including most recently in Virginia.

Benjiman Pratt, an EMT and paramedic first responder of The Orono Fire Department, testified as an expert witness. Pratt testified on the state of Maine’s inability to respond adequately to a Bakken crude oil spill. In comparison with a traditional oil spill, he explained, Bakken crude poses more dangers as it is likely more combustable than traditional crude and because there are unknown chemicals added during the fracking process. 

Throughout the proceedings, the defendants explained that they took necessary action to stop the immediate risk of an oil train derailment and that the legislative process was not a quick enough avenue to address these imminent dangers.

Logan Perkins, one of the defense attorneys, commented on the outcome of the day’s proceedings . "We were able to show that our case is legitimately different than other cases where competing harms has been excluded. It is totally within the judge’s power to admit the evidence. We presented a straight case."

Now, the defendants are waiting the judge’s decision on whether a competing harms defense will be allowed. Doug Bowen, one of the defendants stated at the end of the hearing, "We made our case. Now we must wait to see if they will listen."

At the close of the hearing, the judge assured the defendants that she would have a written decision on the case, “faster than it takes to pass legislation”.