Who Will Come for the Lawbreakers Inside the Gates?

November 19th, 2014

Statement by Sandra Steingraber for Reading Town Courthouse press conference

Good afternoon. My name is Sandra Steingraber, and I live with my family across the lake in Trumansburg.


Sixteen We Are Seneca Lake protesters will face charges tonight—some at 5 pm and some at 7 pm—for peaceful acts of civil disobedience in the form of trespassing at the gates of Crestwood. I am one of them, and it’s likely that I will not be returning home tonight.


We Are Seneca Lake is a campaign that was born on October 23, which the date of our first blockade, after we learned that approval had been granted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to expand the storage of methane in crumbling salt caverns that underlie the west bank of Seneca Lake. In granting this approval, the federal government swept aside demonstrable evidence for reckless risks, including methane leakage, salt cavern collapse, and salination of our lake.


These are all problems that have vexed other gas storage facilities similarly created from unlined, interbedded salt caverns. From Kansas to Louisiana, salt cavern storage of gas has brought death, water contamination, and economic ruin to communities. That is what we are standing against with our acts of civil disobedience.


The We Are Seneca Lake campaign is ongoing. Ten people were arrested on Monday, another eight yesterday, and, only an hour ago, nine of today’s 12 brave protesters were arrested. These 12 blockaded Crestwood’s two driveways on Route 14, successfully halting all truck deliveries into those entrances for an entire working day.


The 12 blockaders today include some bold-faced names known to many in the Finger Lakes community. And here is a role call:


Will Ouweleen, Conesus, owner of Eagle Crest and O-Neh-Da Vineyards;


Phil Davis, Hector, grape grower and owner, Damiani Wine Cellars;


Peggy Aker, Trumansburg, with Macro Mamas;


Stefan Senders, Hector, baker and owner, Wide Awake Bakery;


Anna Redmond, Trumansburg, Regional Access;


Julia Uticone, Cayutaville, Swamp Road Baskets;


Jessica Thorpe, Hector, Glen Mountain Market;


Asa Redmond, Ithaca, Regional Access; also a drummer with the Sim Redmond Band


Scott Signori, Hector, executive chef and owner Stonecat Cafe;


Chris Tate, musician, Hector;


And these ten were joined by PhD researchers, John Dennis of Lansing; and Chuck Geisler of Ithaca.


So, let me now turn that list of names into a direct address.


Memo to the CEO of Crestwood Midstream and all your investors:


The people of Schuyler County and the greater Finger Lakes who make wine, bread, baskets, music, science, and food distribution systems are now standing in united opposition to your dangerous plan for turn our community into a giant gas station for fracking.


A few days ago, the Schuyler County sheriff raised important concerns about safety, public health, and county resources. We welcome that conversation and want address his concerns directly.


In a Facebook post, Sheriff Yessman noted that his cars and his deputies had been sent to arrest an earlier group of protesters standing in Crestwood’s driveway when a call arrived to 911 about a cardiac arrest case. According to the sheriff, that victim could not receive a response from an EMT-trained deputy or the patrol car that was equipped with a defibrillator because those had been dispatched to us.


We agree with Sheriff Yessman that this triage decision was the wrong one. 911 calls should always come first. But we did not make that decision. Nor were not the ones who summoned the deputies. Crestwood did that.


To be very clear: we assure the sheriff that we wish to remain on the very bottom rung of his law-enforcement priorities. We are happy to blockade all day, as we did today. That’s why we are peaceful, non-violent, respectful, disciplined, and seek to create no emergencies or dangerous situations for anyone.


As for the tragic heart attack of one of our neighbors, the sheriff’s obligation is to protect public safety and he’s under no obligation to prioritize Crestwood over a medical emergency of our neighbor.


Out of this experience, we have some questions of our own. The first one is this: If the sheriff’s resources are stretched so thin that first responders cannot deal with a heart attack and a group of peaceful protesters at the same time, how will he deal with a fire, explosion, collapse, a tanker truck collision or otherwise catastrophic accident in a pressurized salt cavern full of explosive gases? Crestwood itself admits to the SEC that such accidents are among the many risks for which they are not fully insured.


Second, why are the Schuyler County deputies being turned into a private security force for Houston-based Crestwood—at taxpayer expense—when generations of residents are endangered by Crestwood’s plans to bring explosive gas into our community and bury it by a source of drinking water for 100,000 people? Who is our law enforcement protecting?


And who will come for the lawbreakers inside the gates?


The sheriff also raised concerns, in a later television interview, that protesters are consuming scarce county resources and draining his budget by tying up the courts, pleading guilty, and choosing jail sentences.


We understand that’s a problem and we offer these solutions. First, one big reason for the clogging up of the Town of Reading court is that one of its two judges, John D. Norman, works for Crestwood and has had to recuse himself due to his conflict of interest. Rather than reschedule future protesters who have been sent to him, as has been requested by us, Judge Norman has insisted that protesters appear before him, even though, presumably, he will then send them to his counterpart, Judge Berry. This is clearly a waste of taxpayer money. Sheriff, please take up your concerns with Judge Norman.


As for jail time, the sheriff has pointed out that it costs $85 to house a male inmate in the Schuyler County jail—and more for females, who must be remanded to jails out of the county. I have a proposed solution to this problem as well. Stop giving us maximum sentences—15 days—for the violation of simple trespass. Sheriff, please take this issue up with your district attorney.


I would be happy to NOT find out what they serve on Thanksgiving Day to prisoners in jail. So would my children. So would the taxpayers of Schuyler County. Out of sensitivity to all of us, I will thus be asking Judge Berry tonight to commute my sentence.


But if Judge Berry does sentence me to maximum time in jail, I will gladly serve my time.


Unlike Crestwood Midstream, I have respect for the law. Unlike Crestwood Midstream, who continues to salt our lake—exceeding its legal limits every single quarter of the year with its emissions—I do not believe that one should be able to break the rules, blithely pay a fine, and then go on breaking the rules. That’s why I will be continuing my civil disobedience witness in jail if I am ordered them.


But if I and other defendants—tonight and on the many Wednesday nights ahead—continue to receive the maximum jail time for trespassing, Sheriff Yessman, please keep in mind that we did not sentence ourselves.


And know this. We are young mothers and great-grandmothers and business leaders. We are your neighbors, the makers of your favorite wine, and the drummers in your favorite roots-rock band. We are fighting for water. We are fighting for life itself. We will not give up. Not in jail. Not in the rain. Not in the snow. You can’t freeze us out, starve us out, or arrest us out.


Because we are…Seneca Lake.