Protestors demand resolution repeal
WATKINS GLEN—Some 300 people gathered around the Schuyler County office building to protest the Schuyler County Legislature Monday, July 14. People turned out to oppose a June decision to support Crestwood’s liquid petroleum gas (LPG) storage plan, with many carrying anti-LPG, anti-fracking and Gas Free Seneca signs.
While the debate inside was orderly, and attended by more than 40 people, the atmosphere outside quickly turned hostile. Once word spread a motion to rescind the support resolution tallied three votes to five, the gathered crowd took to voicing their anger at the legislators as they walked back to their vehicles.
Legislator Van Harp, who had seconded and voted for the motion to rescind the June resolution, was bombarded by chants of “shame on you,” as several protestors got close enough to yell in his face. A security escort broke up a heated exchange between Harp and one protestor.
Legislative Chairman Dennis Fagan, who introduced the June resolution, was also met with hostility as he left the building. He also had a security escort through a sea of anti-LPG signs and chants of “Fagan’s got to go.” Fagan briefly stopped outside his vehicle to exchange words with a small group of protestors before driving away.
Legislator Michael Lausell was greeted by applause from the audience for his continued opposition to supporting the gas storage plan until the county’s emergency plan is revised. Lausell, who introduced the failed motion to repeal the support resolution, addressed the crowd after the meeting informing those who could not attend of what went on inside.
“We have been told to take it to Albany,” Lausell said, referring to comments made by Legislator Phil Barnes during the meeting. “[...] If we have no say here, then why are we passing a resolution urging them to come into our community? Our current comprehensive emergency management plan is past due for review, and I started in February talking to the members of the legislature just to bring it up to date.”
During the meeting, several audience members used the public comment period to present their arguments in favor of rescinding the June resolution. Gary Judson started by reading off a list of demands for the legislature, which included rescinding the resolution as well as for Fagan to recuse himself from all further LPG votes due to an alleged conflict of interest. Alan Hurley spoke on the open meetings law, referring to everyone not being allowed to attend last month’s meeting due to the venue not being large enough to accommodate the crowd. He said he is working on co-sponsoring an event to host Executive Director of the Committee on Open Government Robert Freeman later in the month so legislators and residents can learn more about open meetings.
Former CEO of the Cayuga Medical Center Robert Mackenzie addressed the safety concerns with the project.
“One thing we learned was safety decision making goes beyond the democratic process for majority rules,” Mackenzie said. “It is crucial to go beyond a majority vote to achieve a safety consensus. [...] It’s not a question of balancing safety issues against economics or politics or car sales or the need for fossil fuel. Those priorities just don’t matter after a disaster.”
Gas-Free Seneca Co-Founder Joseph Campbell also spoke during the meeting on an email he received from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) indicating the project is still being reviewed and not sitting on a desk waiting for approval. Campbell requested Fagan to identify his sources at the DEC who say otherwise, but Fagan declined.
U.S. Salt Engineer David Crea was the only resident who spoke in support of the project during the meeting, citing the gas shortage during the winter having a “$100 million impact upon the northeast United States.”
“This group [Gas-Free Seneca] disrupted the free market system,” Crea said of the group’s opposition to the project.
When Lausell put forth the motion to rescind the June resolution, only Harp and Legislator Barbara Halpin voted with him, resulting in a failure to pass. Before the meeting was adjourned, Fagan and the legislators who voted against rescinding were encouraged to speak outside with the crowd about their decisions. However once outside, the crowd quickly turned hostile. Campbell appeared unaware the crowd would become so heated, saying “It seems we have got some rabble-rousers out here.”