January 22, 2015

Out in the cold at the Town of Reading Town Hall - again!

TOWN OF READING, Schuyler County, New York - The weather was the same (cold, snowing) the cast of characters slightly different when court convened in the Town of Reading Wednesday night for the 40 people scheduled to be arraigned on charges of trespassing.

They faced hearings for blocking the gates of Crestwood Midstream, the Houston-Texas company that has been pushing a project to store 88 million gallons of propane in salt caverns on the shore of Seneca Lake.

It barely needs mentioning this is a colossally bad idea that has people all around the Finger Lakes protesting. A regional rally is planned for Jan. 31 at 2 p.m. in Geneva.

Since October the group We Are Seneca Lake has been blocking traffic from entering or leaving the 576-acre facility - at least until Schuyler County Sheriff's Deputies show up and haul them off, citing them for trespassing. The deputies are feeling the pressure and have been exhibiting signs that their senses of humor are stretched pretty thin.

When the weather turned cold and snowy, so did the hearts of the members of the Town Board of Reading and the elected town supervisor who said the courtroom would remain open, but the balance of the spacious, taxpayer-funding building would be remain off limits.

Thus anyone who couldn't fit into the courtroom had to stand outside. I did my best to embarrass the town in a column last week in the Finger Lakes Times.

Wednesday Sandra Steingraber spoke again about the movement, the arrests, the obnoxiousness (and dangerous aspects) of the lockout and also gave a knot of shivering arrestees and their supporters some words of encouragement - and news that the ACLU was stepping in. Of course, given the mindset of the people running the Town of Reading, the ACLU carries very little weight.

The two county sheriff's deputies on court duty continued to enforce the town's new policy of keeping the public out in the cold. But it was pretty clear neither of the deputies liked doing so.

And in the courtroom, I observed that Judge Raymond P. Berry - the same judge hearing most of the arraignments for the 200 people who have been arrested - has become more adept at reading the mandated state script about defendant's rights to counsel, rights to contact someone and the other assorted legalities.

He also now reads the script with the same enthusiasm as a flight attendant explaining how to buckle your seat belt on a commuter airline.

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