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A busy Crestwood
protest day: 9 arrests,
SCHUYLER COUNTY, Nov. 20 -- The number of arrestees protesting the Crestwood energy firm's gas storage plans climbed to 52 Wednesday with the arrest of nine people at two Crestwood gates along Route 14 north of Watkins Glen.
It was a busy day for the protest community -- one that also saw a rally and two court sessions involving 16 defendants, three of whom chose jail over a fine.
The day started with a gathering of 30 protesters in Seneca Harbor Park at 7 a.m., followed by carpooling to the two Crestwood gates. The gate-blocking went on for seven hours in bitter cold temperatures before police arrested seven men and two women. Three other men had been in one or the other of the two blockade lines for hours, but departed before police arrived.
The rally occurred outside the Reading Town Hall, with almost 100 supporters braving the bracing temperatures and gusting winds to hear speeches strongly urging that protesters continue their civil disobedience.
The two court sessions were both in Reading Town Court, where three of the 16 defendants -- including 86-year-old Roland Micklem -- opted for jail as an extended form of protest. Many of the other defendants pled guilty to Trespass and paid fines, with money provided by funds collected from supporters of the protest effort. A handful of cases were adjourned following not-guilty pleas.
The day's highlights:
1. The nine arrests.
The group taken into custody included several area business figures.
Arrestees, according to organizers, included:
Protesting for several hours, organizers said, but not present
at the time of the arrests:
2. The rally. Scores gathered outside the Reading Town Hall despite bone-chilling temperatures to hear a rousing speech from key protester Sandra Steingraber, who would later plead guilty to trespass, refuse to pay the fine, and be sentenced to 15 days in jail. She criticized Schuyler County Sheriff Bill Yessman for remarks he made on TV and online complaining about the cost of housing protest inmates, and about a fatal heart attack victim who could not be treated by an EMT-trained deputy because the deputy had been dispatched to Crestwood.
Steingraber said a 911 call should always take precedence over Crestwood protesters, and that they didn't mind being "the bottom rung" on the ladder of Yessman's concerns. "He has no obligation to prioritize Crestwood over a 911 call," she said, adding that if the county personnel "is stretched so thin, how can they deal with a catastrophic accident?" should one occur at Crestwood -- something protestors and a risk analysis by a former area hospital CEO say has a good chance of happening over the next 25 years.
She also suggested cutting the 15-day sentences handed down to protesters to something closer to an overnight stay. "That would reduce the cost," she said.
In any event, she added, "We will not give up." She told the supporters that she was likely going to jail that night, but didn't want any candlelight vigils or communications while she was incarcerated. "Just take my place" on the protest lines, she said.
Joseph Campbell (pictured at right), president of Gas Free Seneca, said Yessman's remarks were "disturbing" because he "more than implied ... that some peaceful protesters, from young mothers to local business owners to grandmothers and grandfathers, are a threat and are putting the residents of Schuyler County at risk. While we understand that Sheriff Yessman is frustrated, perhaps he should realize that those who are risking arrest are also frustrated, at the utter lack of representation they are getting from their elected representatives and the agencies that regulate these projects. People are being arrested for trespassing, but it is a Houston, Texas-based oil and gas corporation which is the true trespasser here."
3. The 5 p.m. court session. It saw nine cases handled by Town Justice Raymond Berry that had been held over from court two weeks before. The big hang-up on Nov. 5 had been an assertion by defendants that they were being charged unreasonably with Disorderly Conduct in addition to Trespass. The two charges had been lodged against 7 of 10 arrestees on Oct. 29 -- the starting date for the current wave of 52 arrests. Their argument was that Disorderly Conduct applies to public property, and Trespass to private property, and that therefore the two should not reasonably co-exist in these cases. The District Attorney's office, represented Wednesday by Assistant DA John Tunney, concurred, and permitted the DisCon to be dropped if a defendant pled guilty to Trespass.
Five of the seven jointly charged defendants followed that route, pleading guilty to Trespass, with three of them -- Steingraber, Micklem and Colleen Boland -- refusing to pay the $250 fine and $125 surcharge. They were each sentenced to 15 days in jail, the Micklem case prompting some catcalls from the audience and a question from one woman.
"Why can't you give him community service?" she said, obviously concerned by the man's age and health. But the woman got a look from Tunney and a terse: "You're not a party to this."
After they were sentenced, the three were held in the town hall until just before the start of the 7 p.m. session, when they were led by deputies to a transport van that had just arrived. Steingraber and Boland walked through a gauntlet of supporters, cuffed hands held high, while Micklem shuffled along well behind, walking as always with a cane. A deputy was at his elbow. Unfortunately, Micklem fell as he tried to descend from curbing to the parking lot, prompting cries throughout the crowd of "Roland's down!" After being helped to his feet, he complained of an injured knee and was seated for comfort in the passenger seat of an adjacent van. Asked if he wanted medical attention, he said yes, and an ambulance was called. According to a protest participant who witnessed the ambulance's arrival, Micklem decided not to submit to treatment after all, opting for jail, and was taken there in a squad car.
Among other defendants at that first hearing, Patrick Judson and his mother Jeanne -- originally charged with both Trespass and Disorderly Conduct -- pled guilty to Trespass and paid the fine and surcharge, with funds provided by supporters. Charles Geisler and Rev. Nancy Kasper, each charged only with Trespass, pled not guilty, as did Patricia Heckart and Catherine Rossiter, both charged with Trespass and Disorderly Conduct. The Geisler, Heckart and Rossiter cases were adjourned to Jan. 21, while Kasper, requesting a public defender, was told to return on Dec. 7.
4. The 7 p.m. court session. Seven cases dating from the arrest Nov. 3rd of 15 people were handled, with most of the defendants pleading guilty to Trespass and paying the $250 fine and $125 surcharge from donated funds. They included Darlene Bordwell, Jodi Dean of Geneva, Lindsay Clark of the Rochester area, Mariah Plumlee of Interlaken, and Stephanie Redmond, a mother of three from Ithaca whose husband, Asa, was arrested in Wednesday's protest. One defendant, Kenneth Fogarty, 75, of Chenango County, opted to pay the fine himself over 30 days, while another, 88-year-old Robert Henrie of Wolcott, Wayne County, asked for a delay in his plea until after he undergoes surgery for an aneurysm on Dec. 1. He was given a sheet of paper with instructions to call the court for rescheduling his case, and he said he would "if I don't die."
5. The statements. Defendants were generally given the opportunity to make brief statements, and asked if they wanted anyone notified about their situation. One woman, Mariah Plumlee, said yes, she would like to have someone notified about her charges: "Governor Cuomo." Responded Justice Berry: "I doubt he'd take my call." Answered Plumlee: "He hasn't been taking mine."
Another defendant, Stephanie Redmond, said she wanted Sheriff Yessman notified, with information given him as to "who the actual trespassers are on Seneca Lake."
Among the statements, there was Plumlee's: "I'm really sad and angry to be here. I don't like to break the rules; I usually try to follow them. But I also have principles and children" who, she said, are endangered by the Crestwood storage projects.
Or that of Kenneth Fogarty, who was one of several defendants requesting a lighter fine, only to be told by Judge Berry that his hands are tied by New York regulations. He cannot reduce fines for trespass or the jail sentence, 15 days, for those who refuse to pay the fine. "Justice," said Fogarty, "is served best when tempered with compassion. I know you sent a man in his 80s to jail with great misgivings. I plan to study this further" with an eye toward mounting a campaign to get the state rules altered.
Or the statement of Jodi Dean, who said: "The (Assistant) DA was saying 'The People say this'and 'the People say that'" when referring to his office. "But history will show that we are the people."
Or that of Redmond, who said she was participating in the protest because "I have children, and the laws of motherhood supercede the laws bought and paid for by large corporations." She deemed the Crestwood projects "a direct threat to my family," adding: "Our sustainable economy" based on wineries and tourism "should not be undermined by this insanity."
Photos in text:
From the top:
Protesters block the Crestwood north gate early Wednesday morning.
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp
Bottom row: Tom Gifford, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field.
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482
Stewart Field, Watkins Glen, 535-2335
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Gary Whyman, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Phil Palmesano--
Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869