Dec 042014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | December 4, 2014

Contact: Sandra Steingraber, 607-351-0719


19 Arraigned, 6 Jailed, 1 Released Amid Tears, Confusion and Impassioned Statements in Reading Town Court Wednesday Night


9 More Arrests this Morning in Ongoing Civil Disobedience Campaign Against Crestwood Midstream Gas Storage Facility at Seneca Lake, Marking 92 Total Arrests


Watkins Glen, NY.  The Town of Reading courtroom was full Wednesday evening with protesters who had been arrested for blockading the gates of Crestwood Midstream’s natural gas and proposed LPG storage project just north of Watkins Glen, NY. Court went on for nearly four hours, resulting in a mix of pleas and sentences including jail terms of wildly different lengths for six of the defendants who are participants in the We Are Seneca Lake campaign.

The court hearing took place after a rally attended by more than 100 supporters outside the courthouse in blustery, cold conditions. Headlining the rally were two defendants: former Schuyler County legislator, Ruth Young, 77, and current Town of Caroline council member, Irene Weiser. Both Young and Weiser later pled not guilty to their trespassing charges and were given April 15 trial dates.

Video: Rally and statement concerning Maximum Sentences

All of the defendants who pled guilty before Justice Raymond H. Berry petitioned the court for reduced fines or minimum sentences. Those who refused the fine and accepted jail sentences did so on ethical grounds. Many defendants gave impassioned pre-sentencing statements in order to petition the court for less-than-maximum sentences—a $375 fine or 15 days in jail—on the grounds that they did not seek to impose ruinous costs on Schuyler County for jailing them and that, as civil disobedients, their motivation in breaking the law was to protect, rather than cause, harm. Their appeal was echoed throughout the evening by attorney Sujata Gibson, of Ithaca, who acted as legal advisor to the group.

Heretofore, in the six-week-old campaign, Justice Berry had consistently meted out maximum sentences to all protesters who appeared before him and plead guilty.

John Dennis, 64, an environmental planner and consultant from Ithaca said, “I would like to know why the trespass violations are being pursued so vigorously by Reading Town Court with maximum sentences handed down, while Crestwood seems to be in violation of the Town of Reading’s own land use law of 1992 and nothing is being done about it.”

Dennis alleged that Crestwood was drilling into hundreds of acres of steeply sloping lakeshore, a practice that is prohibited by current land use laws and which places a source of drinking water at risk.

Dennis received the maximum sentence of 15 days in jail and was transported by deputies to Schuyler County Jail while the arraignments continued.

Three of the other defendents who received maximum jail sentence and were immediately taken into custody were Jimmy Betts, 30, of Omaha, Nebraska; Michael Clark, 29 Cuyahoga Falls, OH; and Kelsey Erickson, 23, a Cornell University graduate, currently of Carlisle, Massachussets. All had recently completed the Great March for Climate Action, whose members walked 3,000 miles across America, from California to Washington, DC, to inspire action on climate change in one of the largest coast-to-coast marches in American history.

Jimmy Betts said to the judge,  “I am here, one of the Seneca Lake Defenders, because this affects every single one of us, whether we realize it or not. This is not just a local issue. Climate change affects us all from coast to coast and globally.” He appealed for a lesser sentence and was denied.

Michael Clark said, “This is an act of love to stand with a community who is trying to defend itself. I petition for a minimum sentence to give you an opportunity to stand with us.” Along with Dennis and Betts, her refused to pay his fine and received a 15-day maximum sentence.

Kelsey Erickson said, “It’s my obligation to protect the water, the air, the planet we all depend on.”  She, too, received a 15-day sentence after the judge, who inquired if Erikson had consulted her parents about her decision, said, “You are a brave person.”

During the first half of the evening, throughout the parade of arraignments and sentencing, Gibson appealed to the judge for leniency in her role as legal advisor. “We need to take into account whether anyone was hurt and what their motivations are. These are outstanding members of the community. The maximum penalty is not justified.”

Then, in a remarkable sequence of events, Gibson asked the judge to recuse himself for prejudging the case during the arraignment of Judy Leaf of Ithaca. He refused.  A brief adjournment was called by the judge so that the violation trespass statute could be reviewed by Justice Berry. When court was again called to order, Leaf was sentenced to one day in jail and taken into custody.

She was later released from the Schuyler County Jail shortly after midnight, time served.

Susan Mead, 66 of Ithaca, NY, the last defendant of the evening to refuse the fine on ethical grounds, was sentenced to seven days in jail. The judge offered no explanation for his change of heart in meting out maximum sentences, nor why Leaf and Mead received less-than-maximum sentences of different lengths. The only clue came in a comment about grandchildren offered as a reply to Mead’s pre-sentencing statement

In it, Mead said, “I believe I’m part of the last generation who can turn global warming around. With that belief, I participated in this action.”

Before issuing the 7-day sentence, Judge Berry responded, “I don’t like putting people in jail. My granddaughter doesn’t like it when I put people in jail, and she won’t speak to me when I do. I don’t know if you have a grandchild, but it’s very difficult. I will give you a break.”

Mead and Erickson were transported to the Schuyler County Jail, processed and then remanded to Wayne County Jail. Schuyler County has no facility to house female inmates. Dennis, Clark, and Betts were  will serve their maximum sentences in Schuyler County Jail.

Berry offered no leniency to Paul Passavant, 48, of Geneva.  Passavanant, who identified himself to the judge as a professor of constitutional law at Hobart and William Smith and a member of the Town of Geneva’s planning board, provided Justice Berry a tutorial on civil disobedience during his pre-sentencing statement.  Referring to civil disobedience as “an appeal to the public’s conscience,” Passavant argued that judges should treat civil disobedience actions with leniency because they “presuppose a commitment to democracy.”


Passavant received the maximum fine of $375 and chose to pay it. His fine was paid with community donations to We Are Seneca Lake.

This morning, nine more protesters were arrested for blockading at the gates of Crestwood, bring the total number of arrests to 92.  Arrested this morning were Pete Angie, 34, Trumansburg; Catherine Johnson, 52, Ithaca; Margaret McCasland, 68, Lansing; Kerry Angi, 62 Aurora; Timothy Dunlap, 60, Hector; Shirley Barton, 66, Mecklenburg, Daryl Anderson, 61, Hector; Kirsten Pierce 44, Burdett.


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Protesters have been blocking the Crestwood gas storage facility gates since Thursday, October 23, including a rally with more than 200 people on Friday, October 24th. On Wednesday, October 29, Crestwood called the police and the first 10 protesters were arrested. Since then, protests have been ongoing, with more arrests each week.More information and pictures of the actions are available at

The unified We Are Seneca Lake protests started on October 23rd because Friday, October 24th marked the day that major new construction on the gas storage facility was authorized to begin. The ongoing acts of civil disobedience come after the community pursued every possible avenue to stop the project and after being thwarted by an unacceptable process and denial of science.

The protests are taking place at the gates of the Crestwood compressor station site on the shore of Seneca Lake, the largest of New York’s Finger Lakes. The methane gas storage expansion project is advancing in the face of broad public opposition and unresolved questions about geological instabilities, fault lines, and possible salinization of the lake, which serves as a source of drinking water for 100,000 people. Crestwood has indicated that it intends to make Seneca Lake the gas storage and transportation hub for the northeast, as part of the gas industry’s planned expansion of infrastructure across the region.

*Note that the WE ARE SENECA LAKE protest is to stop the expansion of methane gas storage, a separate project from Crestwood’s proposed Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) storage project, which is on hold pending a Department of Environmental Conservation Issues Conference.

As they have for a long time, the protesters are continuing to call on President Obama, U.S. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, Governor Cuomo, and Congressman Reed to intervene on behalf of the community and halt the dangerous project.

In spite of overwhelming opposition, grave geological and public health concerns, Crestwood has federal approval to move forward with plans to store highly pressurized, explosive gas in abandoned salt caverns on the west side of Seneca Lake. While the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has temporarily halted plans to stockpile propane and butane (LPG) in nearby caverns—out of ongoing concerns for safety, health, and the environment—Crestwood is actively constructing infrastructure for the storage of two billion cubic feet of methane (natural gas), with the blessing of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

 More background, including about the broad extent of the opposition from hundreds of wineries and more than a dozen local municipalities, is available on the We Are Seneca Lake website at

 Posted by at 8:43 pm