Protesters arrested in New Milford for blocking power plant transport
NEW MILFORD — Four protesters were arrested just before midnight Tuesday for chaining themselves to a tractor in the middle of the road in an effort to stop turbines from getting to a gas-powered plant under construction.
The Cricket Valley Energy Center in neighboring Dover Plains, N.Y., is controversial in towns along the borders of both states because residents worry it will worsen their air.
Residents have spoken out against the natural-gas powered plant, but this appears to be the first time, at least in Connecticut, where an arrest was made in connection with it.
Three of the men arrested are New York farmers, and the fourth is a Ph.D. candidate in environmental policy, according to a press release from the Sane Energy Project, an advocacy group based in New York City that is dedicated to replacing fracked-gas infrastructure with community-led, sustainable energy .
The road was already scheduled to be closed as the state police and Department of Transportation helped move the equipment.
State police were escorting the huge turbines, which have a combined weight of 700,000 pounds, from Kimberly Clark in New Milford up Route 7 and along sections of Route 55 when the caravan encountered the tractor parked perpendicularly across the road.
State troopers asked the men to unchain themselves and move so the transport could continue, but they refused and the Gaylordsville Fire Department had to come to cut the chains, according to a state police report.
Benjamin Franklin Schwartz, 41, of Wassaic, N.Y.; Christopher L. Iversen, 52, of Kingston, N.Y.; Philip M. Erner, 38, of Wassaic, N.Y.; and David Epstein, 38, of Albany, N.Y., are all charged with disorderly conduct.
They were each held on $500 bond and are scheduled to appear in court Jan. 23 in Torrington.
Schwartz, Erner and Iversen are all area farmers. Epstein is working on his doctorate in environmental policy at the State University of New York at Albany.
“Our farms need clean air and water just like our schoolchildren down the road from the gas plant,” Schwartz said in a press release. “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.”
The plant is expected to generate 1,100 megawatts of power when it goes online next year.
“A new, 650-megawatt power plant on my side of the Hudson River just had its air-permit renewal denied by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, who cited expected climate impacts,” Iversen siad in a news release. “Cricket Valley, at 1100 megawatts, should be next.”
At a public forum in Kent last year, representatives from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said these types of plants are needed to help transition to cleaner energy because they replace dirtier coal-burning plants in other parts of the country.
They said the renewable energy industry isn’t able to store excess solar or wind power yet to supplement the grid when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.
However residents argue that when the Cricket Valley project comes online the air will become more polluted for those around the plant, especially because a plant was not there before.
Connecticut residents are especially angry because they said they didn’t learn of the project until New York already approved it and it was too late. This prompted DEEP officials to introduce a new way of informing Connecticut residents of these projects in neighboring states by posting them online.
Resident in both New York and Connecticut also worry the hilly topography of the area will trap the pollutants the plant emits.
“This is a violation of our free, prior and informed consent according to the United Nations Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, which was ratified by the United States government,” Sachem HawkStorm, Schaghticoke First Nations hereditary leader, said in a press release. “Clean air, water and land are inalienable human and natural rights. These rights cannot be superseded by a corporation for capital gain.”
At the Kent forum, DEEP officials said the preliminary modeling for the project, which were done as part of the permit requirements for New York and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, show the greatest impact for the project happening southwest of the plant in New York.
An air monitoring station has since been installed in Kent to track the air quality and note if the air worsens.
The men arrested also said they are concerned about the methane that will power the plant and say renewable-energy is needed more than gas-powered plants.
“We need a Green New Deal with renewable-energy jobs which protect our families’ health and homes and repair our environment from the cheap fossil-fuel era,” Erner said in the press release. “While this era is ending whether we admit it or not, to continue business-as-usual in the meantime is causing much needless suffering.”