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ssteingraberbwJim Connor, 83, was not among the 20 protesters arrested on Monday afternoon as part of the latest human blockade at the entrance gates of Crestwood Midstream two miles north of Watkins Glen, New York.

Had the sheriff’s deputies arrived an hour earlier, his name would appear in the list of the now 200 arrests that have take place at these gates since October. But Jim—who uses a walker and was blockading while seated in a lawn chair and wrapped in a blanket—needed to go home after 2.5 hours of turning back trucks with his own body.

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Jim Connor, 83, spent 2.5 hours blockading the gates at Crestwood Midstream along with former Tompkins County legislator Pam Mackesey (far left ) who marched with MLK, Jr. when she was 17. Photo credit: Sandra Steingraber

The deli cook folded her civil disobedience cards at about the same time.

Along with a mom who needed to relieve her babysitter.

Which is how the two-dozen original blockaders were whittled down to 20 during a non-violent direct action on a January morning atop an icy hill above Seneca Lake where winds drop effective temperatures well below the already-wickedly-low digits on the thermometer and where the advice, “dress in layers,” means that you pull mittens on over your gloves, wear two coats on top of three sweaters and throw some chemical handwarmers into the toes of your snow boots.

But perhaps the reluctant attrition of the elderly, the workers and the parents of toddlers only attests to the homespun determination of this ongoing civil disobedience uprising—now in its third month.

As does the enduring presence of the 40 other protesters who rallied for hours in support of the blockaders along the shoulder of the highway. One of them was 90-year-old Martha Ferger of Dryden. I was another.

Because it was MLK Day, we sang Civil Rights songs and held banners with messages—“We Are Seneca Lake and We Have a Dream,” “Clean Air, Clean Water = Civil Rights,”—honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. on the national holiday that celebrates his birth. The singing went on for hours. We unarrested protesters, when ordered by deputies to disperse, could hear those inside the squad cars still belting out the refrain to “Wade in the Water.”

And water is, fundamentally, what this fight is all about. We Are Seneca Lake is an ongoing, citizen-based civil disobedience campaign that seeks to protect Seneca Lake and the surrounding region from gas storage expansion by Texas-based energy company, Crestwood Midstream. Crestwood’s intention is to repurpose the crumbling salt mines underneath Seneca Lake’s hillside into massive gas tanks for the highly-pressurized products of fracking: methane, propane and butane.

Seneca Lake, a source of drinking water for 100,000 people, is a very deep lake that drains very slowly. A contamination event, hydrologists tell us, would linger not days or weeks but over a time scale measured by human generations. Because of its depth, Seneca Lake also creates a unique, self-moderating microclimate for the entire Finger Lakes region, allowing vineyards to flourish on our hillsides and making possible a thriving wine industry, which is the bedrock of our local economy.

The methane gas storage expansion project is advancing in the face of broad public opposition and unresolved scientific questions about geological instabilities, fault lines and possible salinization of the lake. Crestwood has indicated that it intends to make Seneca Lake the gas storage and transportation hub for the entire Northeast, as part of the gas industry’s planned expansion of infrastructure across the region. The wise decision by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking in our state—and his corollary announcement of a $20 million green jobs competition—only makes the plan to store mass amounts of fracked gas under our lake seem even more insane.

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