Reading, N.Y. — Hundreds of people filled the parking lot of Reading Town Court in Schuyler County Wednesday night for the arraignments of 10 protesters charged for their role in protesting the expansion of a gas storage facility here.
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A Cornell professor and other Tompkins County residents were among those appearing in the court, just north of Watkins Glen, on Wednesday.
“We Are Seneca Lake” began rallying at the gates of Crestwood, which has gas storage facilities run along the shores of Seneca Lake, on Oct. 23. Major expansion of the facility was authorized to begin on Oct. 24, according to the protesters.
On Wednesday, as 10 protesters faced charges — 7 of them for trespassing and disorderly conduct — about 200 people gathered for a rally outside the courthouse. Advocates, defendants and local winery owners all gave speeches against the Crestwood expansion.
“There is a 35% chance of a major disaster in the relatively near future; I just can’t let that happen, and I promised that I wouldn’t,” said Chuck Geisler, a professor of development sociology at Cornell University, who appeared on charges Wednesday.
Some of the “major disasters” that could be caused are cavern explosions, cavern cave-ins, gas leakage, and other community consequences, Geisler said. Geisler also stated that he is fully prepared to go to jail for his cause.
Crestwood recently received Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval to expand gas storage from 1.45 to 2 billion cubic feet in the caves, according to the Finger Lakes Times.
A Crestwood spokesman told the Finger Lakes Times: “These caverns are well-suited for hydrocarbon storage and history has shown that natural gas and propane can be stored safely at the U.S. Salt complex and elsewhere within the Finger Lakes.”
At 7 p.m. court officials opened the doors to about 40 of the protesters — the defendants, a family member of each defendant, and the media.
Here’s an overview of the defendants that appeared Wednesday night:
Dr. Sandra Steingraber: Trumansburg, NY- Biologist
Jeanne and Patrick Judson: Burdett, NY- Mother (76 years old) and son
Patricia Hockart: Trumansburg, NY
Roland Micklem: Geneva, NY- 86 years old
Colleen Bolland: Elmira, NY- Retired US Air Force
Nancy Kasper: North Rose-Minister
Katherine Rossiter: Sayre, PA
Chuck Geisler: Ithaca, NY- Professor at Cornell
Dwain Wilder: Rochester, NY
In court, none of the defendants was represented by legal counsel, and all of them expressed that they wouldn’t be hiring a lawyer for the charges.
Before the arraignments began, a representative of “We Are Seneca Lake” announced that enough money was raised to pay all of the defendants’ fines and surcharges. The representative also said that the group, “We Are Seneca Lake,” would support the protesters during their incarceration if they refused to pay the fine.
Dwain Wilder pleaded guilty to trespassing and immediately refused to pay the fine of $250 that was imposed by the Court on principle.
Wilder was asked to sit back down, and after short deliberation, Judge Raymond Berry sentenced Wilder to 15 days in jail. The courtroom broke out in a heavy applause for Wildier as he was taken in by the bailiff.
Some advocates cried, “We love you, Dwain!”
All of Wednesday night’s group of defendants (except Wilder) are due back in court for either sentencing or a pre-trial hearing on November 19 (depending on their plea of guilty or not guilty).
The 15 protesters arrested more recently are due in Reading Town Court at a later date.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the protesters were charged with all charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct. In fact, only 7 of 10 were.
Due to an editing error, the story also incorrectly stated that 10 people were arrested at a second date. In fact, 15 were.