Ben Adler has posted an article in Grist detailing the rise of blockades against Spectra's AIM pipeline in the Northeast. Despite Spectra's spokesperson's rote statements about "clean, reliable, domestic natural gas," Adler notes that "new pipelines are actually less safe than older ones. Pipelines built in the 2010s have been failing at about three times the rate of those built from the 1950s to the 2000s." Sane Energy Co-Director, Kim Fraczek, who was arrested as one of the Montrose 9, says, “New York state has outlawed fracking because of health and safety issues; we need to consider that the infrastructure is just as damaging to our health and safety as much as the drilling is.”
The AIM pipeline sparks multi-state resistance.
When you think about the kind of person who would blockade a backhoe with their body, Nancy Vann might not be whom you’d picture. Mild-mannered to the point of needing frequent reminders to speak up, her fine-boned body is surgically pieced back together after a long-ago car accident that left her walking with a cane and merits a handicap-parking permit. The former financial services lawyer is a homeowner in the Reynolds Hills community near Peekskill, New York.
This bucolic bungalow colony had been a peaceful place until the recent arrival of tree cutting equipment, brought in by Spectra Energy to clear a route for their Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline. The pipeline path comes within fifteen feet of one of the Reynold Hills cabins and borders several of the backyards there.
Residents here have larger concerns than their own backyards: Nancy and other advocates are deeply concerned about the wider impact of the pipeline, which would cross two fault lines, the Hudson River, and on the west and east sides of the river, rail lines that carry, respectively, “bomb” oil trains and propane trains.
Compressor and pigging stations that are part of the project would spew emissions over a wide swath of residences, schools and playgrounds. The pipeline would run through New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island to a Massachusetts hub that would connect shale gas supplies from Pennsylvania to an export facility in Nova Scotia.
The biggest worry, however, is that the high-pressure, forty-two-inch-diameter pipe would pass within one hundred and five feet of critical equipment that is part of the Indian Point nuclear facility. An accident there would devastate a wide area, including New York City.
The tree cutting taking place now at Reynolds Hill is in preparation for pipeline construction. Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who ran a pro-fracking campaign against Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014, has allowed Spectra eleven months to cut trees on county parkland. Had Astorino opted to give the company twelve months, it would have triggered a legislative vote.
Reynolds Hill Resistance
Just after dawn, on Thursday, Nov. 19th, Nancy saw a tree cutting crane making its way towards her house. Realizing there was no one she could call in time to stop it, she walked outside and placed herself in the path of the cutter, under one of the larger trees. She was later joined by her local city councilwoman, and several other advocates.
According to recommendations printed on the tree cutting crane, a distance of 300 feet should be maintained between the machine and people. Nancy remained on her own property, and therefore could not be arrested, but her proximity led to a work stoppage for the day.
On Friday, the crews returned, this time with chainsaws. Eight advocates who’d signed a pledge of resistance joined the protest, including Jess Rechtshaffer, who climbed one of the trees. For unknown reasons, on this day, the tree cutting crane did not maintain a 300-foot distance to the demonstrators.
A worker operating a chain saw began cutting trees within five feet of protesters. An arborist friend, someone who is familiar with how to take down a tree, urged them away, saying it was too dangerous to remain so close. Police at the scene did not interfere with the tree cutters and moved demonstrators back to a safe distance. Recounting the incident, Nancy said, “People got killed in the Civil Rights movement; you don’t stop because you could get hurt.”
A photographer documenting the scene was struck by branches, captured on video by NBC News 4. The protest was also filmed by CBS News and Westchester's News 12, and ongoing coverage has been provided by Patch.com.
After two-years attempting to engage FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), as well as town, county, state and federal officials, residents in Peekskill and other Westchester communities who feel that Creative Peaceful Resistance (CPR) is now their only remaining option, recently formed Resist AIM.
Resist AIM organized last week's early-morning blockade of a ware yard in Montrose, from which Spectra workers launch their daily tree-cutting activities. Nine were arrested, and all pleaded “not guilty” at their arraignment this past Friday. Like the fishermen who blockaded a New England coal ship in 2013, the advocates feel they are acting out of necessity; on the principle that their actions prevent a greater harm to the larger society. December 11th is the next court date for the Montrose 9, as they are now called, and a $10,000 legal fee must be raised (contributions may be made at the SenRG website––notate donations as “Fight AIM.”)
Like the We Are Seneca Lake (WASL) blockades, Resist AIM expects to run an extended campaign against the pipeline. The WASL model of themed blockades (mothers and grandmothers one day, faith leaders another) has been picked up by many allied groups fighting infrastructure.
Opposition is fierce throughout New England
The Westchester groups are only the latest to join a resistance that has already been active along the route of the AIM pipeline. To date, there have been sixty-seven arrests in the regional fight against Spectra. Groups such as SWRL (Stop the West Roxbury Lateral) in Massachusetts, CVC (Capitalism Vs. The Climate) in Connecticut; BASE (Burrillville Against Spectra Expansion) and FANG (Fighting Against Natural Gas) in Rhode Island, have dogged Spectra for more than a year. CVC member Bernardo McLaughlin locked down to Spectra equipment at the Chaplin, CT compressor station on November 16th, delaying construction for three hours. And as of November 14th, Spectra has halted construction on the Roxbury Lateral until at least next spring, moving SWRL members to call for its members to support other Spectra fighters.
Like the Westchester groups, FANG started out leading letter writing campaigns and visiting elected officials, before launching a direct action campaign. FANG Member, Sherrie Andre, was arrested last May for a tree sit to block expansion of the Burrillville compressor station. A large-scale mobilization is planned in Rhode Island for December 4th and 5th.
Mutual support among pipeline fighters is spreading along the eastern seaboard: FANG Northeast is networked not only with Westchester groups and the Northeast Pipeline Alliance, but with groups in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. BXE (Beyond Extreme Energy), the DC-based group that most recently organized a hunger strike in front of FERC offices, is supporting the AIM resistance and other front-line community efforts. And mainstream organizations such as New England chapters of the Sierra Club and 350 are joining the battle against pipelines as well.
The Empire Strikes Back
But homeowners and advocates aren’t the only ones turning up the heat: Dirty energy companies––finding themselves blocked at multiple points along a given project––have taken to claiming restitution, such as the $30,000 fine imposed on three FANG members after a lock down halted work crews for three hours this past September. (FANG’s legal fund can be found at their website.)
Pipeline builders often make "donations" to local police, fire and civic organizations, by way of engendering support for their projects. Rumor has it that Spectra has been making payments to the local Peekskill police force. Westchester and Peekskill police have been stationed at both ends of the Spectra construction area at Reynolds Hills since tree clearing began, with nighttime search lights so bright it is difficult for drivers to see the road. Last weekend, one officer appeared on private property, apparently "checking on" a community meeting. Senior Peekskill police at the scene promised that there would be no further incidents of that type. While it is proper that officers enforce laws that protect property, the question is whether the presence of a high-spending corporation affects the protection of free speech and assembly by law-abiding citizens.
Whether such harassment tactics are abandoned could depend on how the public responds. Recent media coverage has brought plentiful negative publicity to Spectra for pursuing actions against ordinary citizens defending their homes. The builders’ tactic of eminent domain is highly unpopular, especially among conservatives.
Adding to Spectra's woes is the recent study released last week by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy, which found there is no need for additional gas pipelines, and that less expensive, less carbon-intensive options–especially efficiency measures–would be more effective in ensuring energy reliability. The study contradicts builders’ claims that the pipe would bring cheap energy to New England and lays bare their ambitions to use the line to reach export terminals further north.
Where are we now?
This is a turning point. As awareness builds, and having been burned by a gamed system run by industry-friendly agencies such as FERC, citizens are losing patience working within regulatory boundaries. Like Nancy Vann, people who never considered it before feel compelled to offer a direct response.
Earlier human rights struggles moved society from a place where oppressive behaviors and policies were accepted and commonplace, to being looked upon as barbaric. Women, minorities and LGTB community members were once legally and socially ostracized as lesser human beings, a concept that civilized society now rejects. How then can it be acceptable to treat those who live near where energy is extracted, stored, or transported as collateral damage in the service of perpetuating the use of climate-destroying fossils fuels?
In the context of a world that has already warmed one degree, allowing the continued harms to human health, the taking of private property, and the harassment of resisters is not only barbaric, but insanely self-destructive. People like Nancy Vann and other advocates who engage in peaceful resistance against dirty energy are–like the suffragettes, civil rights marchers, and Act Up leaders–a vanguard of ordinary people caught in an historical moment not of their own making, who nonetheless stand up for their inherent rights, and push to change the whole of society for the better.
Reynolds Hills photos courtesy of Erik McGregor
Many are familiar with the Canadian artist who stopped an oil pipeline from crossing his property by copyrighting the top 6" of his soil. Now, an American artist has been tapped by a team of advocates hoping to do the same with the Spectra AIM (Algonquin Incremental Market) pipeline. The high-pressure AIM pipeline would transit within one hundred and five feet of the Indian Point nuclear facility. In February 2015, a group of New York State residents, responding to the abuse of eminent domain that has already been demonstrated by pipeline companies (such as Williams, the builder of the Constitution pipeline), and is threatened by Spectra in the multiple states that AIM would cross, decided to take action. They enlisted eco-artist Aviva Rahmani, who created the Blued Trees Symphony–an installation on private land, along the path of the proposed right-of-way, in Peekskill.
These trees, which were slated to be chopped down, are marked with a sine wave, a musical note, in non-toxic buttermilk paint that is semi-permanent. Together, the "notes" form a symphony, which is copyrighted.
[vimeo 133593842 w=500 h=281]
“We need nature - now nature needs us.” – Nancy Vann, property owner
Blued Trees asserts the language of the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), for the moral rights of the art over condemnation of private land. In Peekskill, pipeline construction would threaten the rights of Blued Trees. The art cannot be destroyed by moving, or otherwise destroying the trees with which it was created, without infringing on VARA. Protecting Blued Trees as a work of art will test corporate eminent domain takings in the name of “public good” in the judicial system. If that copyright suit is successful, it could impede the proposed AIM expansion.
Would you like to participate in Blued Trees?
HELP MAKE WAVES: The more trees that get painted, the more visible and powerful this artwork will be. Already, others have started painting trees on their property. Any willing landowner may join the “Greek Chorus,” as part of the Blued Trees Symphony, by painting a wave “note” on one tree or more, preferably roadside for visibility. You may be along the route of the AIM pipeline, or another pipeline. How beautiful will it be to see these trees popping up all over the Northeast, and how will the public respond when they learn what these mysterious painted trees symbolize?
Instructions for mixing the buttermilk slurry and painting your own Blued Trees can be found here.
Send a photo of your “blued” tree with GPS coordinates to Rahmani, who will continue -- throughout 2015 -- to gather and map all the Blued Trees.￼￼ Contact: Aviva Rahmani 207 863 0925 or firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Photos by Linda Leeds, Erik McGregor and Susan Rutman
On July 13th 2015, a large community of residents showed up, with an appointment, to Senator Charles Schumer's Peekskill office to deliver almost 24,000 petition signatures to stop Spectra Energy's Algonquin Interconnect Market Pipeline (AIM). Along with the petition signatures, the community invited Senator Schumer to attend Wednesday afternoon's Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) hearing where Nuclear expert Paul Blanche will speak about the danger of the proximity of a high pressure gas pipeline adjacent to the aging nuclear power plant, Indian Point. To add insult to injury, Spectra Energy proposes to the expansion project to transverse the Hudson River and travel near two fault lines. This puts the lives of not only local residents in danger, but the entire region which exceeds 20 million people.
Senator Schumer and his aides, left for the day before the scheduled appointment, and left residents outside to speak to the press: LHV_07-13-2015_AlgonquinPipeline_LC_10PM.mov.
Residents decided to take action and walk into the office to deliver the petitions and the invitation to 2 young interns at the front desk who were left after Senator Schumer and aides decided to not be present at the office. The interns took detailed notes of our concerns, accepted the petition signature and invitation to the NRC hearing.
After the action, the Sane Energy team joined local families to go to the site, just feet away from their homes. The community is surrounded by old growth trees, medicinal herbs, and raspberries that burst in your mouth with sweet-tart flavor. We documented a few of the residents with the YOU ARE HERE map pin to feature on the interactive online map of fracking infrastructure in New York. Visit www.youarehereNYmap.org to see the extent of fracking infrastructure in New York State. We will soon be working with our neighboring states to expand the map.
We MUST stop this pipeline.
It's been a productive first half of the year: We're excited about the success of City Council resolution #549 and the growing groundswell of opposition to Port Ambrose, as well as opportunities coming up with offshore wind, the REV process and the state energy plan. Here's a brief roundup of what we've been up to lately at Sane Energy Project: JUNE
Sane Energy Co-Director Kim Fraczek was honored as a Climate Hero by the Human Impacts Institute, along with many of our heroes, such as Wendy Brawer of Greenmaps, at a gala at the French Consulate. Kim also recorded a session with Green Gotham that will air later this summer.
Outreach this month moved outdoors and out of the city: We hosted a Port Ambrose orientation at Patagonia, then hit the beaches to leaflet along the south shore of Long Island. We spread the word about infrastructure at Clearwater weekend with our friends fighting the Constitution and AIM pipelines. YOU ARE HERE presentations in Staten Island and Orange County covered a wide range of upstate issues as well as Port Ambrose.
A group of allies presented NYSERDA with a report card even when they cancelled their public meeting on the state energy plan last minute. We returned a second time for the rescheduled hearing and are evaluating the now-released plan. Final report card forthcoming. We ended the month by co-hosting a roundtable on offshore wind with our friends from Citizen Action, bringing together more than three dozen folks from around the state to talk about how to support the development of a renewable energy industry that could benefit the entire state.
Jane's Walk, an annual event by the Municipal Arts Society, kicked off the month. This year's walking tour was hosted by a variety of art and artists from the new Whitney museum, and ended at the back door of the museum, on top of the pipeline vault, in a tug of war between Spectra execs and Jane Jacobs herself.
May 14th saw the passage of the NY City Council resolution against Port Ambrose that we all worked so hard for, as well as the introduction of the Indian Point resolution. Complete story here.
May also saw work begin on America's first offshore wind farm, the so-called "Rhode Island Project" (which will eventually supply wind power to both Long Island and New England). This pilot project is crucial to the development of wind power on the east coast.
Josh Fox and Lee Ziesche's travelogue highlights a different map each week. The YOU ARE HERE map was featured as the Map of the Week in May. The map has 137 "dots;" with each dot opening a pop-up box that explains the infrastructure project at that site, and links to the local group fighting it. As Josh and Lee note, "We’ve toured to many of those dots and have seen the strength of the communities there." Stops along the tour that are points on the map: Seneca Lake, where Josh was recently arrested; Wawayanda, near Middletown, where they attended a rally against the CPV power plant; and in Schoharie County when the Solutions Tour highlighted the Constitution pipeline fight. As Lee says, "If these projects are allowed to continue, it’s game over for our planet–meaning whether there is an infrastructure dot over your house or not, we are all here."
We made presentations about shale gas infrastructure to the Village Independent Democrats, the Hudson Guild, Rockaway Wildfire, and Sustainable Warwick. Our travels took us to Long Beach, Rockaway, and City Hall fighting Port Ambrose; to Tarrytown for the NRC Indian Point hearing, to Rosendale to work on the Pilgrim Pipeline; and to Syracuse to teach artivism. We took part in Surfriders' Hands Across the Sands event, which was focused on stopping Port Ambrose and offshore drilling.
Finally, over the Memorial Day weekend, to prep for the FERCUS rally, Kim led a team to paint a 50-foot banner that was used to blockade FERC and is now touring the region with various activist actions. Click here to see the complete photo set of the FERCUS art build.
The month started with the City Council hearing on Port Ambrose where Sane Energy Project presented a 4-part power point. The Port Ambrose campaign continued with lots of postcard writing events, rallies, and a town hall presentation in Oceanside where a banner painted by local teens had its debut.
We had a bird dog rally at Governor Cuomo's Harvard Club fundraiser on April 13th, demanding he veto Port Ambrose. The April 21st rally at his Manhattan office, part of the three-day Rising Tide action, was a huge success, with a Port Ambrose tanker squaring off against wind turbines. Co-Director Patrick Robbins was interviewed at the rally for Democracy Now.
A lot of action was generated around the Spectra site in the West Village, where the opening of the new Whitney Museum was another chance to bring attention to the infrastructure build out in NYC and to what's at the other end of the pipe. Meanwhile, Clare Donohue demonstrated the YOU ARE HERE map in a webinar on fracktivist tools hosted by the Halt the Harm network.
Kim helped Riverside Church prepare artwork for an Earth Day mass, and we took part in the Earth Day Fest at Union Square and at a City College improv performance.
The month ended with the NECOS conference, bringing together climate and pipeline fighters to Massachusetts from all over the Northeast.
The tragic gas explosion in the East Village was a reminder how devastating any gas accident can be and why we should be rapidly replacing our city's aging infrastructure with renewable energy. Our statement on the explosion here.
Kim presented at both the Shale Justice Convergence and Shale Justice Spring Break in Pennsylvania, and was invited to lead an activist art forum at Pratt Institute. Patrick presented about Port Ambrose at the Island Park and Baldwin Civic Associations as well as the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, and the Manhattan Young Democrats. And another YOU ARE HERE presentation went off in Spencer, NY. The press conference announcing the Port Ambrose resolution was covered by Newsday, the Long Island Herald, and NY1.
See the Reportback for January and February here, and the media round up for April through June here.
Most photos by Erik McGregor
CONGRATULATIONS! On Thursday, May 14, 2015, after months of grassroots campaigning, calling and nudging by advocates, the NY City Council unanimously passed Resolution 549, sponsored by Chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, Donovan Richards, calling on Governor Cuomo to veto Port Ambrose. At the time of the oral vote, which had no dissenting or abstaining votes, there were 32 co-signers, who are listed here.
Thank you to everyone who has tirelessly engaged on this campaign, we are making real progress! And there's good news on many legislative fronts:
At the same Council meeting, a resolution demanding the closure of Indian Point, also sponsored by Chair Richards, was introduced.
These resolutions, while legally non-binding, should have a strong influence on both Governor Cuomo and Mayor DeBlasio in deciding policy, especially when taken together. The City Council and the Mayor already agree on a plan to reduce the city's greenhouse gases 80% by 2050. These two resolutions, along with recent legislation being considered and passed, such as the new air quality regulations and the "Lights Out" bill, as well as solar rooftop initiatives, signal a real commitment to seeing that goal achieved. This is the kind of progressive action we need if we are to impact climate change at all, and it's a marked difference from the prior administration.
What happens next? With Port Ambrose, we are using the current "clock stopped" moment to continue organizing and widening the circle of awareness. The 45-day window when the adjacent governors have the opportunity to veto Port Ambrose won't open until the final Environmental Impact Statement is released and the final public hearing happens. That could occur any moment now but it may be weeks away (the last time the "clock" was stopped several months went by). The governor needs to see a big engagement from his NYC and Long Island base, so we'll want to follow up this resolution with events that make visible the opposition to Port Ambrose, such as the Hands Across the Sand action in Long Beach on Saturday. Please join us and stay engaged by connecting with us on Facebook and via our newsletter. (Subscribe to the newsletter by clicking the link in the right-hand column to "follow" this blog.)
We'll support our friends and advocates on the Indian Point resolution as they now campaign for co-signers on that initiative. Despite the recent fire, and the approval of the AIM pipeline in close proximity to the nuclear plant, both of which served as a reminder to how vulnerable NYC is to accidents at this aged and partially unlicensed facility, this reso faces a tougher battle for passage. Stay tuned for updates.