Cricket Valley protesters in court

Protesters and their attorney in front of the Dover Justice Court. Photo by Erik McGregor

DOVER – On Thursday night, 15 of the protesters that were cited for the violation of trespassing, and the four that were charged with criminal trespass for their actions at the Cricket Valley Energy Center on November 16, were arraigned by Justice Wren Abrams in Dover Town Court.

The Dutchess County District Attorney’s Office, represented by Anthony Parisi, offered a settlement for the protesters who were charged with the trespass violation.  In exchange for a guilty plea, the 19 would have to perform 50 hours of community service at a Dutchess County non-profit of their choosing, in order to adjudicate the case.  

The four defendants that are facing criminal charges for scaling the 275 foot smokestack at the site were told that if they plead guilty to the charge, they would receive a 30-day sentence in the Dutchess County Jail and one year probation, the maximum sentence for a Class B misdemeanor, according to the district attorney’s office.  

At their first appearance, all of the protesters were issued a restraining order preventing them from going within 1,000 feet of the plant, which includes New York Route 22, and public transportation on the MTA Harlem train line.

Protesters on the smokestacks. Photo by Erik McGregor.

The defendants, represented by Attorney David Dorfman, pled not guilty and Dorfman is scheduled to discuss the matter with the prosecutors. 

The protesters had stopped construction work at the power plant claiming that the fracked-gas plant will become one of the largest sources of air pollution in the Northeast. “I don’t want to go to jail for 30 days, but that was a risk worth taking to shut down the plant for the day and bring awareness to the harm this plant will cause to our communities and the climate,” said Creek Iversen, an Ulster County farmer charged with criminal trespass. “We shouldn’t have had to be up on that smokestack though. If Governor Cuomo is a real climate leader who cares about protecting the health and safety of New Yorkers, he’ll shut down the plant for good.” 

“Our farms need clean air and water just like our school children down the road from the gas plant,” said Ben Schwartz, of White Pine Farm in Dutchess County.  Schwartz is one of the four facing a 30-day stint in the Dutchess County Jail. “The much cleaner solar-power plant, approved for construction across the road from Cricket Valley, plans to sell its electricity to Dover residents, unlike the gas plant.”

In addition to the local air pollution, the farmers are concerned about climate impacts. According to protest organizers, methane, the main component of the Cricket Valley’s planned fuel supply, is 86 to 100 times more potent a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide during its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Independent researchers are finding alarming methane leakage rates from gas infrastructure, debunking the industry myth that gas is better for the climate than coal, opponents of the plant maintain.

“As a resident of New York City who supposedly would ‘benefit’ from the fracked gas of Cricket Valley Energy, I refuse to allow the land, air, and people of Dover to be sacrificed in my name,” said Monica Hunken, another one of the climbers facing criminal charges and 30 days in the county jail.

The remaining defendants are scheduled to appear in Dover Town Court on December 9.

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