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Montrose 9 Assert the “Necessity Defense” at Trial in Cortlandt, NY Nine community members arrested for blocking construction on Spectra Energy’s AIM pipeline expansion – known as the “Montrose 9″ – join the national debate over harms caused by fossil fuel infrastructure
Cortlandt, NY — The “Montrose 9” are nine community members arrested for disorderly conduct for allegedly blocking traffic near the access to a Spectra Energy construction yard used for the expansion of a high-pressure fracked-gas pipeline known as the AIM pipeline. Their trial, which resumed in Cortlandt, NY at 8:30 yesterday morning, has the potential to become a landmark case with national implications involving the “necessity defense.” Defense counsel Martin R. Stolar is a prominent social justice attorney who argues that the defendants’ actions were justified since they were undertaken to stop a greater harm and were carried out only after all other legal and regulatory options had been exhausted. At 3:00 PM yesterday afternoon, the court adjourned until July 15th at 1pm, when the other seven defendants are expected to testify regarding their reasons for taking direct action against the project.
While the necessity defense has been used in other types of cases, it is unusual in environmental litigation. One case occurred in May 2013 in Massachusetts when a small lobster boat managed to blockade a barge containing 40,000 tons of coal near the Brayton Point Power Plant. The charges of obstruction were dismissed and the presiding judge stated that the actions were morally justified. In a recent Seattle case, the “Delta 5” were found guilty of trespass for blocking an oil train but not guilty of obstruction. Jurors in that case cited sympathy for the activists and feeling of gratitude for their personal sacrifice for the good of all.
In questioning the prosecution’s police witnesses, Mr. Stolar also suggested a more traditional reason to dismiss the charges. He established that the defendants were not, in fact, causing the traffic jam on Route 9A as was charged. Rather, the Spectra workers caused the tie up when they obstructed the roadway with their cars. Police testified that once they began directing the workers to move, the congestion began to clear up even before the arrests took place. When asked how he determined that the cars belonged to pipeline workers, one officer replied that “there were a lot of out of state license plates.”
The greater harm to be prevented: Defense witnesses, Cortlandt Councilman Seth Freach and two nuclear experts, testified to the dangers posed by the AIM pipeline. Councilman Freach discussed his own, and the Town Board’s, concerns about public health and safety and described letters that were sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and other regulatory agencies expressing those concerns. Among the materials Cortlandt submitted to FERC was a report from an independent study that the Town had commissioned. Councilman Freach
noted that, based on the Board’s thorough evaluation of the project, members had voted unanimously in opposition to the pipeline. Paul Blanch, an engineer with over 50 years of nuclear experience, stated that there were “very significant unaccounted for risks” with the AIM pipeline and “an unacceptable probability” of a serious or catastrophic accident due to the pipeline’s close proximity to the Indian Point nuclear power plant. He also provided details of his efforts opposing the pipeline at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Physicist Paul Moskowitz described the radioactive materials, including lead 210 and polonium 210, that result from decay of the radon in fracked gas. He went on to discuss regulatory filings he’d submitted detailing his concerns about radioactive emissions from the AIM pipeline and their impacts on human health. He testified that FERC’s response to his concerns were “a total fabrication” that “ignored over 50 years of established science.” When asked about what process would be used to deal with these dangerous substances, he responded that since FERC denies the existence of those known radioactive materials in pipelines there is no process in place for dealing with them.
Two defendants explain their actions: Only two of the Montrose 9 defendants were able to testify before court concluded for the day. Both told their own individual stories of why they had stepped up to protest in such a compelling way. Although members of the community have been working through regulatory channels, their efforts have been met with delays and legal maneuvers, leaving them no recourse but to pursue more direct actions. Linda Snider testified that since all of the regulatory agencies had ignored the issues, she felt she needed to stop AIM construction herself. She stated, “I wanted to stop the Spectra trucks and stop them from putting in this pipeline. We’ve just got to stop this.”
Defendant Susan Rutman, a landscape photographer who lives next to the Hudson River, was the final witness for the day. She explained she had sought to stop the work through writing to officials. “My intention was to stop the pipeline, because I knew it would prevent a far greater harm.” she said.
Find out more information about the AIM Pipeline and ongoing resistance here: