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‘Montrose 9’ Found Guilty, Necessity Defense Denied

Above photo: By Erik McGregor.

“Montrose 9,” Arrested for Blockading Spectra Energy’s AIM Pipeline, Sentenced Today: “We will continue this fight.”

The “Montrose 9” pipeline activists that were sentenced today maintain that their actions were necessary to prevent harm to the public posed by the ongoing “AIM” segment expansion of Spectra Energy’s pipelines

Cortlandt, NY — On Friday morning –  in front of a packed courtroom of over 100 New York residents, activists, sympathizers and supporters opposed to Spectra’s “AIM” Pipeline – Cortlandt Town Court Judge Daniel McCarthy issued sentences for nine New York residents (known as the “Montrose 9”) that were arrested for blocking access to a Spectra Energy construction yard in November 2015. Each of the nine of the defendants were fined and sentenced to community service. The defendants had pled the “Necessity Defense,” arguing that their activity was justified because it was done to stop a danger more harmful than the violation of the law, and only after all other legal and regulatory options had been exhausted. The danger they oppose is Spectra’s “AIM” Pipeline, a high-pressure 42-inch gas pipeline that runs within 105 feet of critical Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant safety facilities. Even though Judge Daniel Murphy ultimately rejected this argument, it is groundbreaking for the necessity defense to be considered, and the community stands with the “Montrose 9.” The defendants’ lawyer, Martin Stolar, has filed an appeal with the appellate division of Westchester’s Supreme Court.

Despite their sentencing, the activists vowed that the fight is not over and that the resistance movement will continue. As “Montrose 9” defendant Linda Snider stated, “It‘s difficult for me to think of myself as ‘guilty’ when I was trying to stop a possible catastrophe. The first part of the Spectra pipeline is now in place and running under the Hudson, right next to a proposed oil barge anchorage site and Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in Tompkins Cove. What could go wrong? The huge outcry against this and other pipelines lead me to believe that the entire Spectra pipeline will, in the end, never get completed.”

Defendant Susan Rutman agreed, stating:“Our communities need champions to protect the citizens, not punish those of us who are taking action and standing up to try to prevent a Fukushima-on-the-Hudson catastrophe. It is with a very sad heart that I stand before you to be sentenced.”  Defendant Melissa Friedman stressed, “As an attorney, mother of two and with an ailing partner, I have limited time but I had to do something,” citing a long list of problems related to fracking and climate change. She added, “We’re doomed and it’s time to start acting like it.”

By completing the AIM Pipeline, Spectra Energy has only completed one-third of their overall pipeline expansion project – the “Algonquin” Pipeline Expansion. This is really one pipeline project disguised as three pipelines in order to illegally circumvent Spectra Energy’s obligation to identify cumulative impacts of the project as a whole. So while the AIM battle is over, the Montrose 9 voiced their commitment to winning the overall war in court on Friday.

Defendant Monica Hunken stated to the Judge, “Although we have been found guilty, it will not deter us from continuing to peacefully fight the next two segments of the Spectra pipeline every inch of the way. Whatever punishment we receive is a small price to pay for defending the land, air, water and our precious communities… We are here doing our job, being shepherds of the land. If we do not stand up to corporations, they will mow us down. We cannot allow them to treat us like we are sacrifice zones. I am doing this for you and your family too.”

The “AIM” pipeline has been opposed by local residents, countless local officials, Governor Cuomo, Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand, as well as riddled with corruption exposés and conflicts of interest. On February 29, 2016, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo called for an immediate halt to construction while the state conducts an independent risk assessment; the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denied the Governor’s request. On August 3, 2016, both New York Senators Schumer and Gillibrand wrote to FERC, calling for an immediate halt to construction of the pipeline; FERC also denied the Senators’ request. In November 2016, it was revealed publicly that Phil Suter, the spouse of high-ranking FERC official Maggie Suter – who led the review for two gas pipeline projects by Spectra Energy – is a paid consultant for Spectra on a related pipeline project. Without further regulatory action or support from elected officials, residents and advocates have taken matters into their own hands to directly stop construction. Defendant Mike Bucci questioned the Judge, asking “All of the pieces of government have failed us, and now the judicial system has failed us. Where do we go for protection?” 

Although FERC granted Spectra’s request to place the Stony Point to Yorktown portion of the AIM Pipeline into service in 2017, Spectra Energy still needs to complete its Atlantic Bridge and Access Northeast projects for the project to be financially viable. Resist Spectra and its allies across the northeast will oppose Spectra Energy’s reckless plans, rampant greed and toxic proposals at every stage. Factually, these pipelines and their supporting infrastructures are destructive and put tens-of-millions of lives, communities, and the ecosystems on which we depend at risk of imminent danger.

As defendant Kathleen Thomas stated in court to Judge McCarthy today, “The response to our plea has to do with the word ‘imminent’. When the real danger is imminent, it will be too late. Once this becomes imminent, we are all gone. There will be no chance to say ‘I told you so’.” By working in solidarity with similar fights across the nation, we will stop Spectra once and for all.
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