By John Nickerson
STAMFORD — A platoon of protesters who oppose UBS’s support of destructive mining operations in Appalachia descended on the city Monday, climbing a downtown construction crane to hang a huge banner, while others got into the financial giant’s Stamford headquarters and chained themselves to a railing and the front door.
The protesters wreaked havoc for Stamford police, who closed down streets and worked on rounding up members of the group during the late morning and early afternoon. In all, they arrested 14 people in connection with the protests.
The events began when the protestors climbed the crane before dawn Monday morning at the site of a 15-story building now under construction next to the Majestic movie theater on Summer Street. Three people went out on the crane boom 20 stories above the ground, and two of those hanging below the boom on ropes unfurled a 40 foot by 60 foot banner that said “UBS Stop Funding Mountaintop Removal.”
For a time in the gusty winds, the two men hanging at each of the lower corners of the banner appeared to be in some danger. The boom was blowing with the wind and with the banner acting like a sail, it swung the boom and blew one of the protestors into the building and the bottom right corner of the banner was cut when it got snagged on a metal girder.
One construction worker watching the protest said the four people got up onto the crane boom before the crane operator arrived at 6:30 a.m. When the operator tried to get into the crane cab, he found the hatch closed with one of the activists in the cab. The construction worker said that the protestors told the crane operator that they were conducting a peaceful protest.
The activists pulled the banner back in at about 11:30 a.m. after about 2 hours of allowing it to fly directly within view of UBS’s North American headquarters on Washington Boulevard.
Just as the four were being taken into custody after climbing down the long ladder from the top of the crane, UBS security called police to report that the protesters had appeared inside their building.
Two protesters had got into the UBS headquarters and used bicycle locks to attach themselves to an inside railing on a mezzanine in the main foyer of the building, from which they unfurled a banner that read, “UBS Divest from Mountaintop Removal.”
The protesters belong to two groups, Hands Off Appalachia and Capitalism vs. the Climate, which oppose mountaintop removal mining, an extreme form of strip-mining where coal companies blast up to 1,000 feet off the top of mountains, according to Hands Off Appalachia’s website. The rubble is often placed in the valley below, burying headwater streams. The group said the Stamford protest is part of a multi-state campaign to stop the banking giant from investing in strip-mining operations in Appalachia.
“We wanted to put a human face on what we feel to UBS is just a bunch of numbers, to let them know there are real people affected by their funding decisions,” Hands Off Appalachia spokesperson Mathew Louis-Rosenberg said in a telephone interview Monday.
The protest came about after some group members met with a few UBS executives in Stamford on Friday to talk about their problems with the company’s investments. The activists did not get the assurances they wanted, and after spending the past couple of years protesting at UBS offices in the Southeast and Appalachia, it was time to visit UBS’s North American headquarters where the company’s highest-level executives makers are located, Louis-Rosenberg said.
The demonstration went well, Louis-Rosenberg said. A number of people who were previously unaware of the group’s fight had already contacted them to learn more after having seen the banner flying from the crane boom, and some had even asked to contribute to the legal bills of the 14 arrested in the events.
“I think it was extremely successful and the hope is that bringing the campaign to Stamford the message would reach those decision makers, who are the real targets of this campaign,” he said.
One protestor not caught by police, Tyler Cannon, 21, a student from Logan, West Virginia, said he has seen the destruction strip-mining operations cause firsthand. During a telephone interview, he said the river his family previously used to get water from is now polluted.
“The nonviolent actions taken by my friends today pale in comparison to actions the coal industry takes, which destroy the air, the water, and the lives of my family and friends alike. UBS contributes significantly to the continuation of this process and I stand behind Hands Off Appalachia,” Cannon said.
Cannon would not divulge how the operation came to pass or the planning involved in the venture.
In a statement, UBS did not directly address its involvement in Appalachian strip-mining operations. UBS spokesperson Karina Byrne said, “UBS has established processes and commitments to make responsible banking a cornerstone of its culture and brand. We have developed and continue to develop policies and guidelines to identify, manage and control environmental and social risks in our business transactions.”
Of the people arrested, the five people that took over the crane 200 feet above Summer Street were charged with criminal trespass, breach of peace, criminal trover – the use of another’s property resulting in economic loss – as well as conspiracy, Stamford Police Capt. Susan Bretthauer said. Two others connected with the group who were found with walkie-talkies and rappeling gear at the Bell Street Garage where they were watching the protest were hit with conspiracy charges too, Bretthauer said.
One of the five people arrested at the crane was a young woman who police found on Summer Street communicating with the four men on the crane by walkie-talkie, Police Chief Jon Fontneau said.
Seven more individuals picked up at the UBS building on Washington Boulevard were charged with criminal trespass, breach of peace and conspiracy.
As well as those from inside Connecticut, the protestors came as far away as Texas, while others hailed from North Carolina, Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, Maine, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington D.C., Bretthauer said. The court bonds placed on the protestors ranged from $10,000 to $20,000. Police Chief Jon Fontneau said the protestors were from the same groups that protested outside UBS in late June. At that time four people belonging to the groups were charged with breach of peace and trespassing when they tried to block the entrance to UBS on June 28.
About 20 members of the group protested the UBS Parade Spectacular – the city’s annual Thanksgiving balloon parade – on Sunday, but no one was arrested.
The construction project where the crane is located is the 15-story 210-unit Trinity Park Square West apartment building at 66 Summer St., next to the Majestic movie theater. The development is one of the Urban Redevelopment Commission’s long-stalled projects, having spent nearly a decade entangled in legal and financial obstacles. The groundbreaking was at last held this past summer, and steel girders have been going up since then. The project includes a six-and-a-half story parking garage, and another apartment building, a 19-story 207-unit building on Washington Boulevard near West Park Place.
Later in the day, once the protesters had been cleared from the site, the project served as the backdrop for a “topping-off celebration,” in which the final beam in the framework is installed. Although the protest prevented that from happening, Mayor Michael Pavia and other city officials still gathered to celebrate the progress on what Pavia described as a “long-awaited project.”
Update: 10 a.m.: The people chained to the boom of a crane on Summer Street are protesting UBS’ involvement in mountaintop mining in Appalachia.
There are at least two people still chained to the crane. A third person seems to be attempting to get the protesters to come down.
Construction on the building that doesn’t require crane is continuing despite the protest. Lower Summer Street is closed as authorities attempt to get the protesters down.
The construction project is the 15-story 210-unit Trinity Park Square West apartment building at 66 Summer St., next to the Majestic movie theater. The development is one of the Urban Redevelopment Commission’s long-stalled projects, having spent nearly a decade entangled in legal and financial obstacles. The groundbreaking was at last held this past summer, and steel girders have been going up since then.
The project includes a six-and-a-half story parking garage, and another apartment building, a 19-story 207-unit building on Washington Boulevard near West Park Place. You can read more about the development here.
Update: 8:54 a.m. One protester has been brought down, the others are still up on the crane.
Original post: Three protesters chained themselves to a crane on Summer Street Monday morning. It’s not yet known what they are protesting. They are about 200 feet up on the crane. Stay with The Advocate for further details.