1 man jailed; dual charges delay several cases to Nov. 19
READING CENTER, Nov. 6 — Ten protesters arrested Oct. 29 in a blockade at two Crestwood energy company gates along Route 14 north of Watkins Glen appeared in court Wednesday night, but only one case reached conclusion: a 15-day jail term for a Rochester man.
The appearance of the 10 before Town of Reading Justice Raymond Berry was complicated by the presence of two charges against seven of the protesters: counts of trespass and disorderly conduct. Those seven had been arrested at the main gate to the Crestwood compressor station, where they were lined up, blocking a chemical company truck from entering.
They were protesting the federally approved storage of methane in salt caverns along the west side of Seneca Lake — a project they say endangers the lake waters and threatens the economic vitality of a region steeped in wineries and tourism. There is also, they say, the danger of a catastrophic event, such as a major explosion that might seriously affect the area for miles.
The other three protesters that day were posted at a smaller gate to the south. At the time of their arrests, they weren’t blocking any vehicles, although they said they had earlier prevented a small truck from exiting the Crestwood grounds. Each of the three was charged only with trespass.
Protest organizers said earlier this week — following the arrest of 15 more protesters (whose court appearances are spread out across November and early December) — that they were hoping their legal counsel would be able to get the Oct. 29th disorderly conduct charges dropped or any penalty from them eliminated through a plea agreement.
But, said Sandra Steingraber, a key protest organizer and one of Wednesday night’s defendants, calls to the District Attorney’s office “were made and made and made, but the DA didn’t provide an answer.”
When Wednesday’s first defendant, Colleen Boland, told Judge Berry that she would plead guilty to trespass if the judge agreed to dismiss the conduct charge, he said he was not empowered to do that — that such a result would have to be approved by the DA.
That set the tone through a two-hour-plus court proceeding. Berry adjourned Boland’s case until 5 p.m. Nov. 19th, a pattern he followed in all but one of the succeeding cases. In some, defendants pleaded guilty, in some not guilty, and in a couple neither one, the pleas left up in the air.
Of the 10 defendants, only the case of Dwain Wilder of Rochester reached sentencing, after Wilder pleaded guilty to the single count of trespass lodged against him for his role at the south Crestwood gate.
“I did intend with all my might to block Crestwood’s access,” he told the judge before being fined $250 and a $125 state surcharge. He refused to pay, was accordingly sentenced to 15 days in the Schuyler County Jail, and was led from the courtroom by a deputy to begin serving his time.
The two defendants with him at the south gate, Rev. Nancy Kasper of Wayne County and Charles Geisler of Ithaca, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to trespass. Their cases were adjourned to Nov. 19.
The dual charges, presumably to be sorted out when the judge contacts the DA’s office, are still faced by Boland, Steingraber, Jeanne Judson, Patrick Judson, Roland Micklem, Catherine Rossiter of Sayre and Patricia Heckart of Trumansburg. The latter actually split her pleas, saying “guilty” to trespass and “not guilty” to disorderly conduct, but said afterward that she wished she had entered “not guilty” to both. While a couple of defendants tried to read statements, only to be deterred by the judge, trespass-accused Geisler managed to read aloud a complaint issued by Crestwood official Barry Moon to the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office before the Oct. 29 arrests.
In it, the official said the protesters were “hindering the flow of traffic in and out” of the Crestwood grounds without permission, and that he wanted them “removed and arrested today and in the future” should they reappear at the company’s gates.
After court was concluded, the defendants marched out of the building to cheers from about 80 supporters still on hand. A larger group — about 150 people, counting defendants — were present in the parking lot before the court opened. Steingraber told the post-court gathering that while she “had planned to go to jail tonight, we are going home … But if we need to fill the jails to stop this project, we’re willing to take that tactic.”
The rally beforehand:
Well over 100 people gathered in the parking lot outside the Town of Reading hall more than an hour before the 7 p.m. court proceeding.
TV and online media were on hand, and speeches took center stage. With Steingraber acting as emcee, the microphones yielded speeches by defendants Colleen Boland, Jeanne Judson, Patrick Judson, and 86-year-old Roland Micklem, entrepreneurs Lou Damiani and Justin Boyette, former legislator (and Monday arrestee) Ruth Young, and recent Legislature candidate Sylvia Fox, who noted that she was one of two anti-storage candidates who combined earned more than half the vote in District 6, encompassing the Village of Watkins Glen and nearby environs.
All gave impassioned talks welcomed by the supporters, who occasionally broke into the chant: “We Are Seneca Lake,” the term applied to the grassroots movement that has sprung up in opposition to the methane storage project.
Photos in text:
From top: Speakers at the rally preceding court included retired Air Force Master Sgt. Colleen Boland of Elmira; retired teacher Jeanne Judson and her son Patrick; former Schuyler County Legislator Ruth Young, and defendant Roland Micklem.
Left: Recent Schuyler County Legislature candidate Sylvia Fox. Right: Defendants Catherine Rossiter of Sayre (left) and Rev. Nancy Kasper of Wayne County.