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October 01, 2014
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Police halt fracking demonstration


MIDDLETOWN, NY — May 30 was a perfect day for a protest: sunny and bright with a light breeze. Among the first to show up was Tannis Kowalchuk, who came dressed in a doctor’s uniform with an oversized stethoscope and who stood tall on stilts. The outfit dovetailed nicely with the message of the day, which was to call for a health impact assessment regarding hydraulic fracturing.

Before long, about 25 protestors had gathered. The group was comprised of members of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy (CCSE) and others from Sullivan County and also a couple of people who are fighting the installation of a compressor station in Minisink. But shortly before Sullivan County Legislator Cindy Geiger was to deliver her remarks to the group, two Middletown police officers showed up and told the group they were on private property and had to leave.

The mini-mall on Dolson Avenue, where Senator John Bonacic has an office, is privately owned. The officer said the company that manages the property, Levin Management Corporation, wanted the protestors to leave, so everyone would have to go. At that point about a dozen protestors walked into Bonacic’s office, and the officer followed them in, again telling them they had to leave.

Because the officer followed them into the office, a couple of the protesters felt that someone on Bonacic’s staff must have been aware of the call to the police, but Bonacic said his office was not involved. His office issued a statement that said, “Senator Bonacic was in Albany at the time of the demonstration. His staff did not call the police. His staff was aware the police were called when the police showed up. The office is in a mini-mall with other businesses/offices, including a day care center so we know public safety is of pre-eminent concern. We appreciate the general professionalism of both those who came to express their viewpoints and the professionalism of the police.”

A spokesman from Levin Management Corporation confirmed that they summoned the police.

As the officers and the protestors were discussing some of the finer points of private property rights and free speech, Jill Wiener, a member of CCSE, in an interview with The River Reporter, said: “I’ve spoken to Senator Bonacic many times about this fracking issue and we have not gotten what we want. And the truth is that when the drilling industry goes to speak with the senate majority, they get exactly what they want. They get the laws they want, compulsory integration, and all sorts of things that are not really in the public interest. And all we’re asking for is something that should be a gimme: we’re asking for a health impact assessment, an independent study of the health impacts that would come to New York State with gas drilling.”

Bonacic was not the only senator whose offices attracted fracking protests that day. Senator James Sewerd’s office in Courtland was visited by about 50 people who had the same message about a health impact assessment. Protestors also turned out to Senator Dean Skelos’ office in Rockville Center and Senator Tom Libous in Binghamton. Police did not disrupt those events.

During the budget process this year, the assembly included $300,000 to pay for a health impact assessment, but that was removed by the senate and by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The literature handed out by CCSE included the results of a peer-reviewed study called “Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health.” The study was released earlier this year by Dr. Robert Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at Cornell University, and Dr. Michelle Bamberger, a doctor of veterinary medicine. The report examined 24 cases in six states.

A line from that report reads: “The most commonly reported symptoms were associated with reproduction. Cattle that have been exposed to wastewater (flowback and/or produced water) or affected well or pond water may have trouble breeding. When bred cows were likewise exposed, farmers reported an increased incidence of stillborn calves with and without congenital abnormalities (cleft palate, white and blue eyes). In each case, farmers reported that in previous years stillborn calves were rare (fewer than one per year).”