By Jeff Stein, The Ithaca Voice
A judge in the town of Reading dismissed charges Wednesday night for 42 people arrested during ongoing acts of civil disobedience at the gates of a proposed natural gas expansion in Schuyler County.
Twelve of of the protesters who saw their charges dropped are from Tompkins County.
“We Are Seneca Lake,” the group protesting the expansion of Crestwood Midstream Partners at the mouth of Seneca Lake, said in a statement that Judge Raymond Berry’s had agreed to drop all of the protesters’ charges. (About 100 other people also face trespassing charges in connection with the protests.)
“We’ve seen a sea change in the way the court and the prosecutors have reacted to our cases—from maximum sentences for jail terms for trespassing violations to large-scale offers to support dismissals in the interests of justice,” said Sujata Gibson, an Ithaca attorney who has represented We Are Seneca Lake, in a statement.
“This is a testament to the sincerity and passion of the protesters.”
The fight over the Crestwood facility’s proposal to store gas in abandoned lakeside salt caverns has been ongoing since at least the fall of 2014.
Dozens of protesters have been arrested over the course of several months, but it remained unclear how much jail time — if any — many of the protesters would be ordered to serve.
A statement said their appeal for leniency was helped recently by Ray Schlather, a well-known Ithaca attorney, who helped negotiate the settlement.
According to a statement, last night the protesters in Reading Town Court read the following:
“We only have this planet. We must safeguard it for those who follow. Would that it not be necessary, but sometimes citizens of good conscience must engage in non-violent acts of civil disobedience to protect that sacred trust. As long as Crestwood Midstream Partners, or any other corporate or public or private entity, continues to threaten our way of life by the proven dangerous storage of highly compressed gas in the crumbling caverns at the Salt Point facility, I reserve the right to act as my conscience dictates in order to protect Seneca Lake, its citizens, and the surrounding environment. I reserve all rights to protest further at the Crestwood facility, although it is not my intent at this time to break the law in doing so.”