Judge dismisses all charges, in the interests of justice, for 42 Seneca Lake protesters

March 19, 2015 by Mark H. Anbinder

Judge Raymond Berry granted a motion "in the interests of justice" to dismiss all charges against 42 area residents who had been arrested for acts of civil disobedience protesting gas storage at a Seneca Lake facility. The charges were dismissed on Wednesday night in Town of Reading Court.

Protesters outside Town of Reading Court on Wednesday. Photo provided.Protesters outside Town of Reading Court on Wednesday. Photo provided.Ithaca attorney Raymond Schlather, of Schlather, Stumbar, Parks & Salk, LLP, represented the 42 protesters in negotiating the mass dismissal, and has worked with the Schuyler County district attorney's office to reach a similar agreement for about 100 other protesters charged with trespassing or disorderly conduct in the course of their protests.

According to a statement from We Are Seneca Lake, Judge Berry told one group of defendants, “I’m very proud of you. You had a cause and you fought for it to the best of your ability. Congratulations.” The group says Berry has not always been supportive over the last several months. “I’ve grown to admire you people," the judge told them last night, according to the statement.

"I’ve watched Judge Berry and the D.A. become very moved by the willingness of these human beings to make enormous sacrifices," says defense attorney Sujata Gibson. "This is a testament to the sincerity and passion of the protesters. They are single mothers, wine makers, business owners and teachers," says Gibson, who has worked with the protesters since the fall.

One of the protesters, Michael Dineen, who had previously been sentenced to jail by Berry for a protest-related trespassing charge and had a similar charge dismissed last night, said, "I’m thankful that the Schuyler County DA’s office has recognized that ‘we all have an obligation to protect our environment,’ and that justice is therefore best served by dismissing all charges." He says, "I am extremely proud to be part of a community that is willing to be arrested in such numbers to prevent Crestwood’s plan to industrialize our region and threaten our lake."

The protests are an attempt to block Crestwood Midstream Partners, which owns underground salt caverns alongside the lake, from using the caverns for high-pressure gas storage. Protesters fear the caverns, left behind from decades of salt production, are not stable enough to store compressed natural gas safely, and any leaks or failures of the cavern walls or roofs could create an environmental disaster that would affect the region's wine production, farming, and water supply.

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