Above: Protesters sit on tracks in Albany by Cindy Schultz for the Albany Times Union.
Hundreds oppose oil trains at the Port of Albany
A daylong effort to block crude oil trains brought hundreds of people near the Port of Albany, where they sat on train tracks and listened to speeches, sang and discussed nationwide and local environmental issues.
The Albany event on Saturday, organized by the coalition Break Free From Fossil Fuels, was one of several around the country and world this month.
More than 400 of the 1,500 people registered said they would be willing to be arrested for physically blocking the trains, a Break Free spokeswoman said.
Oil trains did not come to the area where activists sat throughout the day, but five people were arrested after a demonstration near the Watervliet Reservoir in Guilderland.
There, at about 1 p.m., activists Marissa Shea and Maeve McBride delayed an oil train coming from North Dakota into the Port of Albany by rappelling off a railroad bridge that crosses the reservoir, Break Free spokeswoman Aly Johnson-Kurtssaid.
Guilderland police said they charged Shea, 30, of Lowell Mass., McBride, 40, of Burlington, Vermont, and team members Rachel Kijewski, 31, Lakw Worth, Fla., Alexander Lundberg, 32, of Minneapolis, Minn. and Jordan Davis, 27, of New Windsor N.Y., with unlawful interference with a railroad train, fifth-degree conspiracy and third-degree criminal trespass. Shea was also charged with reckless endangerment.
They were all released on their own recognizance, police said.
During the incident CSX railway stopped all train traffic for over two hours. Guilderland Center and Selkirk firefighters responded to help rescue a person who refused to come to the ground, police said. One firefighter had a minor injury during the course of the rescue.
Shea and McBride are “core organizers” of the Albany Break Free action, Johnson-Kurts said. The train proceeded after the activists’ arrest, she said.
The central action Saturday consisted of sitting at train tracks in the South End. Hundreds from around the country listened to speeches in Lincoln Park before walking down Morton Avenue and Green Street to tracks near Church Street.
Chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, fossil fuels have got to go,” mixed with drum beats and other music, rang out as activists walked toward the tracks with signs, wind turbine replicas and megaphones.
Albany Common Council member Dorcey Applyrs, who represents Ward 1, said in an interview that the day’s energy was an inspiring moment in the long-standing fight against oil trains.
“This is the spinach we need to keep fighting,” she said before the march, adding that residents of the Ezra Prentice Homes, who live close to the trains, are “impacted every day.”
Albany Common Council member Vivian Kornegay, who represents Ward 2, said at Lincoln Park that oil trains should not be in the “backyard” of city playgrounds.
“We assume 100 percent of the risk and see minuscule benefits,” she said.
As the sunny morning faded into a cloudy and windy afternoon, some people sat in metal folding chairs that straddled the tracks, while others sprawled out on nearby grass. Colorful chalk marked up the concrete between rail lines with slogans and drawings.
At about 3 p.m., Break Free began collecting money for tarps and line so that people could stay the night, as it became clear that trains would likely not pass through that afternoon. About 80 people expressed interest in staying overnight, a Break Free organizer said.
The Rev. Marc Johnson, associate pastor at Greater St. John’s Church of God in Christ in the South End and an outspoken opponent of oil trains in Albany, spoke throughout the demonstration.
“We want clean air, we want clean water, we want a great quality of life,” he said in Lincoln Park. “We all deserve clean air.”
Johnson criticized energy company Global Partners LLC in a prepared statement. The company has facilities at the Port of Albany.
“I’ve seen the damage first hand, so I’m saying ‘no’ to the oil trains, and ‘no’ to the pipelines, not just for myself and my community, but for all humankind,” Johnson said in a statement.
Global Partners Chief Operating Officer Mark Romaine said in a statement that the company’s employees “turn our commitment to safety into a reality” and emphasized employees’ contributions to the city. “They live and work in your neighborhoods, send their kids to local schools, and shop in local stores,” he said. “In the last three years, we’ve been inspected more than 270 times, resulting in a handful of minor infractions that were promptly corrected.”
Romaine also praised law enforcement officials and public officials for their efforts to manage Break Free events this week.
But throughout the day, memories of the catastrophic Lac-Megantic, Quebec, accident were apparent. In 2013, 47 people died and a large portion of the town was destroyed when an unattended freight train carrying Bakken crude rolled into the center of town, derailed, exploded and caught fire.
Jay O’Hara, a founder of the Climate Disobedience Center, read a written statement from Marilaine Savard of Lac-Megantic to close the speeches on Saturday.
“Our old downtown is now totally razed to the ground,” she wrote, later adding that even three years later, the “community needs healing.”
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