We Are Seneca Lake Protest in September

Friday the 13th proved to be a lucky day for We Are Seneca Lake, the group formed about a year ago to stage direct action protests at the Crestwood Midstream methane storage facility in the town of Reading. 

The Presbyterian minister Rev. Jane Winters was arrested on trespassing charges along with 16 other protesters blockading the Crestwood gates on the morning of June 30. On Nov. 13, her case before the Town of Dix town justice was dismissed “in the interest of justice” by the Schuyler County district attorney’s office, according to a Dix office clerk. 

Winters’ case was moved from the Town of Reading because she was a resident there for 13 years and knew town Justice Raymond Berry, according to Ithaca attorney Sujata Gibson. 

Gibson says that the dismissal is what she hopes to be the first of about 120 from the office of Schuyler County D.A. Joseph Fazarry. His office and Gibson’s team had reached a deal this past April to dismiss earlier protesters’ cases, but Gibson said the deal was rescinded when 19 more protesters were arrested on April 22, Earth Day. 

This new prospective round of case dismissals, Gibson said, is due to the district attorney’s office now agreeing that in about of half the 200-plus cases it has reviewed, We Are Seneca Lake protesters were arrested on public land. 

“They’ve been reviewing lots and lots of case files and determined 120 people of those didn’t have enough evidence,” Gibson said. Numerous arrested protesters were scheduled for a Nov. 18 Town of Reading court hearing, but that was postponed on Monday to a date to be named shortly. 

We Are Seneca Lake had an actual first-year celebration on Sunday, Nov. 8 with music and speeches at the Rongovian Embassy in Trumansburg. 

The event featured music from Colleen Kattau and Dos XX, and a silent auction and raffle, which raised about $7,000 for the group’s costs. That money will go toward legal defense, according to Jan Quarles. All of the attorneys who have defended protesters arrested outside Crestwood’s gates, mostly on trespassing charges, have done their work pro bono. We Are Seneca Lake’s costs have mostly been in maintaining a legal resource center at Sujata Gibson’s law office, which takes $3,000 per month. That pays for the work of paralegals; they help self-represented activists with their cases, draft motions, and process paperwork. Incidentals have also cost a few thousand dollars this year, Quarles said—material for banners and hand-warmers for the early morning outdoor actions. 

“We’re like an all-weather team,” Quarles said. “We don’t want to have to do this. It’s dark, it’s freezing cold, and you get up at five in the morning to do these. We have to defend the commons against a corporation putting in a private gas station.”  

About 200 people were in attendance around 5 p.m. as talks and presentations were coming to a close and the music was about to begin.

“People get to know each other, standing together, going to jail together,” Quarles said. “It was nice not to have an arrestable event, but have a beer, dance, and celebrate our one-year anniversary.” 

Concern was not entirely absent from the Rongo, of course. Sandra Steingraber told the crowd that their fee for leaving was sending on their comments against using natural gas and biomass to repower the Greenidge power plant in the town of Dresden to the state Public Service Commission. The formerly coal-burning plant, built in 1938, was shut down in 2011; comments to the PSC were due this past Monday. 

“We chose the name ‘We are Seneca Lake’ because there are 100,000 people who live in the Seneca Lake watershed,” Steingraber said. “65 percent of all of us is water from Seneca Lake. Our blood plasma, our cerebral spinal fluid, an exhaled breath on a cold day is all the lake.” 

Kim Fraczek and Patrick Robbins, co-directors of the Sane Energy Project out of New York City, showed off their new New York gas infrastructure map, available at youareherenymap.org. The interactive map, Fraczek said, is intended to combine location and data about different gas-related entities in New York state – pipelines, wastewater plants and landfills that accept fracking waste – with stories about those places, all in the same window. 

The Seneca Lake defenders still await a decision from the state Department of Environmental Conservation on a liquid propane gas storage facility that is also on a permitting track next to the methane in the emptied salt mines on the Crestwood property. An adjudicatory law judge is still determining whether enough information has been presented for the DEC to make a decision in that case. 

Gas Free Seneca, an older group, is more focused on the LPG storage decision, since that group has legal standing on cases and has avoided civil disobedience to maintain that status. 

When the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled that Crestwood could store methane in Reading last October, everyone “freaked out,” Quarles said. Gas Free Seneca and We Are Seneca Lake and took “two ways that forked,” with the latter taking the path of direct action to try and reverse the federal decision. 

“During the ‘60s, there were the inside and outside paths,” Quarles said. “Civil disobedience in the streets and inside, in the courts. We Are Seneca Lake isn’t a legal entity and never will be, so we don’t care if we get arrested.” 

The next announced event from We Are Seneca Lake is a 1 p.m. march on Nov. 29 in Watkins Glen before the United Nations climate summit begins on Nov. 30  •.

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