Another 57 protesters were arrested Monday for blocking the gates of the Crestwood property along State Route 14 just north of Watkins Glen, including well-known author and climate change activist Bill McKibben.
READING | Another 57 protesters were arrested Monday for blocking the gates of the Crestwood property along State Route 14 just north of Watkins Glen, including well-known author and climate change activist Bill McKibben.
There have now been 537 arrests since the civil disobedience campaign began in October 2014, according to Sandra Steingraber, one of the leaders of We Are Seneca Lake, the group organizing the protests.
The protesters oppose a pair of projects by Crestwood, a Houston-based energy storage and distribution company.
One is a planned expansion of Crestwood’s existing natural gas storage facility at the site, which uses underground salt caverns along Seneca Lake to store the gas. The project has been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission but still needs air quality permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Crestwood also plans to build a propane and butane storage and distribution complex using other salt caverns nearby. That project has been under review by the DEC since 2009.
The 57 protesters arrested Monday morning were charged with disorderly conduct for unfurling banners and blocking gates at the entrance to Crestwood’s property. It was the most protesters arrested in a single day since the sporadic protests began, said Schuyler County Sheriff Bill Yessman.
Yessman said he is concerned because the protesters are tying up law enforcement manpower, which could affect their ability to respond to an emergency elsewhere in Schuyler County.
“It ties up our resources for an extended period of time, having to deal with this,” Yessman said. “This morning, my staff, New York State Police, the Village of Watkins Glen Police Department, every resource in the county was up there transporting people. Once we’re engaged with these people, we can’t just walk away.”
Yessman said he hopes the DEC will make a decision on the projects soon, although he fears the protests could ramp up if they are approved.
Schuyler County District Attorney Joseph Fazzary has also expressed frustration that the protesters, who have mostly been arrested for trespassing or disorderly conduct, are overwhelming Reading Town Court and the District Attorney’s Offices.
Fazzary has agreed to drop charges against many of the protesters, including 111 trespassing cases that were dropped in February because it was determined they were actually standing on state-owned land alongside State Route 14 and not Crestwood property when they were arrested.
However, there are still more than 300 cases pending. Some of those arrested refused to pay fines and served short jail sentences.
Among the new arrests Monday was Bill McKibben, a Vermont resident who has written several best-selling books on climate change and founded 350.org, the climate change activist group which coordinated 5,200 simultaneous climate change demonstrations in 181 countries in 2009. McKibben also led the fight against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline project in the U.S. and Canada.
“This place is so important because it’s one of the places where people are understanding that it’s not just carbon dioxide we are fighting, it’s also methane, that there are two greenhouse gases and they are both spurring this incredible heating that we are seeing,” McKibben said in a statement after his arrest. “If we can hold off the fossil fuel industry for just a few more years, this stuff will never be built again.”
Others arrested Monday included the Rev. Felicity Wright, pastor of Elmira’s Park Church, and Phil Davis, co-owner of Damiani Wine Cellars on the east side of Seneca Lake.
Those arrested ranged in age from 30 to 76 and came from 19 New York counties, including eight from Schuyler County, according to We Are Seneca Lake. One Steuben County resident, Louise Sullivan-Blum, 55, of Corning, was charged. Two Chemung County residents were charged: Leslie Potter, 72, Big Flats, and Patricia Buttolph, 70, of Elmira.
Those arrested were all scheduled for court appearances and released, Yessman said.