Crestwood gas project differences continue
READING--Some 13 Finger Lakes residents were arrested Monday morning, July 20, while protesting the proposed Crestwood salt cavern gas storage project in Reading. Taking place in front of the gate along Route 14, the demonstrators were charged with trespass as they blockaded anyone from entering or leaving the facility. These arrests put the total number of those arrested for trespass in front of the gate to 309.
The protests are part of the "We Are Seneca Lake" campaign against the Crestwood project which started some nine months ago. Of the 13 arrested Monday, none were from Schuyler County. Schuyler County Sheriff's deputies arrested the 13 shortly after 9:30 a.m. as they carried with them a seven-foot-tall replica of Pope Francis' recent encyclical letter on climate change.
Some 84 protesters also sought dismissal of their cases during a hearing held Tuesday, July 14 at the Reading town court. The defendants were arrested and charged with trespass following a series of gas storage protests at the Crestwood gate along Route 14. The protesters urged Town Judge Raymond Berry to dismiss the charges as part of a previous agreement with District Attorney Joseph Fazzary, which was later rescinded following additional arrests at the site.
Attorney Sujata Gibson said they argued two motions, one of which was to enforce the previous agreement that the Schuyler County District Attorney made to dismiss charges, in the interests of justice, for Seneca Lake protesters. The second was to argue the underlying grounds for the motion to dismiss in the interests of justice.
"In New York, a pretrial agreement made by a district attorney is an enforceable contract, and our very ability to administer justice depends on people's ability to have faith that the people will honor their agreements," Gibson said. "In this case, there was a clear offer, made on the record and in front of the judge. The terms were clear. The district attorney's office promised that all defendants with violation level charges pending as of March 19, 2015 could have their case dismissed if they signed or read aloud the motion statement stating that though they could not make any promises for anyone else, and reserved the right to act as their own consciences dictated in the future, they did not have a present plan to break the law in future protests."
However despite this pledge, more arrests followed during an Earth Day protest which caused the district attorney's office to reverse its offer. None of those arrested that day were previously arrested at the site.
"The point of contention was whether the Earth Day arrest of 19 entirely different people, who are not party to this motion and who had never been arrested before, was a valid reason for the district attorney to revoke the offer," Gibson said. "The defendants' attorneys stressed that to allow the cases of 19 unrelated defendants to have any bearing on the case of the 84 before the court would be a gross miscarriage of the fundamental principles of justice."
Berry heard arguments from all attorneys during Tuesday's hearing, with a written decision expected within a few weeks.
A group of concerned Reading residents had also recently sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in opposition of the plan. Signed by some 230 residents, the group also attempted to persuade the Reading town board to send a letter of concern to the state as well, but the board has taken no action.
However, New York State (AFL-CIO) President Mario Cilento issued a statement last week in support of the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) storage project in Reading.
"The project will create solid, middle-class jobs and help to improve the overall economy," Cilento said. "This project will not only create much needed construction jobs but will add several long-term sustainable jobs performed by a highly trained and skilled workforce."
In addition, Cilento said the LPG storage project is expected to increase tax revenue which will help support public services.