GENEVA — Laura Salamendra, one of the 160 people arrested during recent protests against Crestwood Midstream’s gas storage facility in Schuyler County, says she is neither a radical nor a troublemaker. Nor does she oppose the facility because of politics or a desire to court controversy, she says.
Instead, she opposes Crestwood because she and her family drink Seneca Lake’s water.
“Crestwood threatens our safety, and we must fight back,” Salamendra said Saturday afternoon before joining about 300 activists in a march through downtown. “Geneva and surrounding communities must rise up to ask, ‘Where is our vote?’ ”
Backed by We Are Seneca Lake, the group that has been leading the protests at the Crestwood site, the march and the lakefront rally that preceded it were dubbed We Are Seneca Lake Too. Organizers cast Crestwood’s project as a regional issue rather than a local concern and said they wanted to get residents at the north end of Seneca Lake more involved in their efforts.
“Water fouled at the south end of the lake will migrate northward and foul the water at the north end of the lake,” Doug Couchon of We Are Seneca Lake explained.
The protesters walked from Lakefront Park to Castle Street and then made a tour of downtown via Exchange, Seneca and Main streets. They passed near the local office of Rep. Tom Reed, R-23 of Corning, but they did not stop there. The march finished with more speeches at City Hall.
Many of the marchers carried signs decrying the Crestwood project or stating that various towns say no to it. The communities represented included Waterloo, Geneva, Penn Yan, Fayette, Naples and South Bristol.
The march also drew contingents from Albany and Syracuse, along with a man dressed as a lion who carried a sign that said, “Crestwood is lioning to us.”
The protesters chanted as they marched, alternating among “We are Seneca Lake,” “One, two, three, we don’t want no LPG,” “Schuyler County, hey, hey, hey, the rest of us should have a say,” and other slogans.
Mike Fitzgerald, a Finger Lakes Times columnist, served as emcee.
“This rally today is all about showing solidarity for all of you and the people that are opposed to this awful Crestwood project,” he said. “It’s also to send a message to Schuyler County that this lake belongs to everyone.”
Crestwood wants to store liquid propane and butane in unlined, abandoned salt caverns north of Watkins Glen. The activists worry that an accident could contaminate the lake — and, by extension, the people who drink its water.
“We are literally made from Seneca Lake,” said Steve Churchill, chairman of the Seneca County Board of Supervisors’ Environmental Affairs Committee. “We are Seneca Lake.”
Federal regulators already have approved an expansion of Crestwood’s natural gas storage on its 576-acre property in the town of Reading. Activist Sandra Steingraber asked people to attend a special Department of Environmental Conservation issues conference Feb. 12 in Horseheads to show the strength of the local opposition to LPG storage.
Meanwhile, she asked for people to sign up for the ongoing protests at Crestwood’s gates over both projects.
“We can keep this going for a very long time, and we intend to do so,” she said.
We Are Seneca Lake’s Schuyler County protests have led to arrests, but Saturday’s march proceeded without incident. City police escorted the marchers and blocked intersections to allow them to pass safely. Fitzgerald reminded the activists that they were ending their march at a “friendly” city hall.
Fourth Ward City Councilor Ken Camera was among those who spoke from city hall’s steps. He said Seneca Lake could face destruction if the protests fail.
The crowd, still waving signs, stretched from the sidewalk out to the middle of Castle Street. Occasional passersby asked why they were there, and some drivers honked as they went past.
“Without the lake, Geneva and the surrounding areas and towns will lose what makes them unique,” Camera told the crowd. “For us, the lake is not a business. It is a part of our home that we need to fight for. ... We’re going to be on the barricades until we win.”
Couchon called the protests a people’s movement.
“There was nothing to do but go home or fight, and we fight,” he said of activists’ reaction to Crestwood’s plans. “We fight for our right to determine what’s best for our people, as we do not accept that corporations are people or that corporations have the right to determine what’s best for our communities.”
Howie Hawkins, a longtime activist and the 2014 Green Party candidate for governor, was a late addition to the roster of speakers. He pledged to join the protesters, and he linked their efforts to earlier protests against nuclear power and to the larger energy debate. The Crestwood protests, he said, are part of the nation’s decision to either continue embracing 19th century energy sources that pollute or to turn toward green power.
“We’re not just fighting for ourselves,” Hawkins said. “We’re fighting for our whole future, our whole state, our whole nation, our whole world.”
Faith Meckley, a Geneva native currently attending Ithaca College, closed the rally on an optimistic note.
“I really believe that we can keep Seneca Lake beautiful for all of eternity,” she said.