In November, 2015, tree cutters and huge flatbed trucks began rolling through northern Westchester communities—Peekskill, Montrose, Cortlandt. These communities were soon to be changed—and not for the better.
The tree cutters are contracted by Spectra Energy, a billion-dollar Texas-based pipeline company. Their mission: to clear ground for the Algonquin Incremental Market Pipeline (AIM), a project that would expand a pipeline carrying fracked gas from Pennsylvania through northern Westchester and on to Boston. One of the numerous problems: this huge pipeline will carry methane (“natural gas”) within a few hundred feet of the Indian Point nuclear facility.
Indian Point nuclear power plant is facing mounting opposition after a string of leaks, shutdowns, and other problems. A major point of concern is that evacuation in case of an accident is impossible. Twenty million people live within the 50 mile evacuation radius of Indian Point including much of New York City. The plant sits on the convergence of two earthquake sites and is currently operating with an expired license. Now, Spectra Energy wants to build a massive new gas pipeline on 105 feet from critical safety infrastructure at the plant. Pipeline and nuclear safety experts have raised the alarm about the situation creating a “Fukishima-on-the-Hudson.”
How likely and/or dangerous is a pipeline explosion? Unlike the old gas pipelines of 10-26”, these pipelines are 42” in diameter and are failing at three times the rate of pipelines built decades earlier. Fracked gas will be pumped through them at extremely high pressure. Ruptures and leaks in pipelines are common: (318 significant incidents in 2015 alone). Even if the pipeline never has an accident, normal operations produce gas emissions of methane and many other dangerous pollutants, threatening the health of people in nearby communities in Rockland, Westchester, and Putnam counties.
The fight to stop the Algonquin pipeline has gone on for more than two years. A community-based group called Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion (SAPE) produced mountains of incriminating evidence that the pipeline was unsafe, testifying before federal agencies and local officials. More recently, Westchester residents affiliated with ResistAIM have begun a non-violent, direct action campaign and have been blockading pipeline worksites and being arrested for acts of civil disobedience. Though these actions have generated support from some New York State and Westchester elected officials, and media attention from the New York Times to the Guardian, they have succeeded only in temporarily stopping work; construction on the pipeline continues to this day.
The ResistAIM agenda rests squarely on the goal of environmental justice, to bring attention to the fact that communities of color have historically been overburdened by air pollution from energy-generating facilities, and water pollution from waste treatment plants. This problem is endemic across the nation and needs more attention.
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., of the Hip Hop Caucus, wrote in Ebony (9/8/15), “One of the most significant issues that the infrastructure of Black organization and movement has on the whole stayed away from, and been excluded from, is Climate Change, but right now is the moment to change that.” He went on to point out: “68% of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a power plant. Polluters pollute without limits in our communities, which is why we have higher rates of asthma, cancer, heart disease, and lung related illnesses in the African-American community.”
Peekskill knows this all too well. The population of 25,000 residents is predominantly black and Latino. Peekskill Mayor Frank Catalina has spoken about the health issues facing city residents. “The town has the highest rate of asthma-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations of the surrounding area,” Catalina said, “This pipeline will increase emissions from compressor stations along its route that spew methane, benzene, and other toxic chemicals… Peekskill residents don’t need to breathe more air pollution; we need less.”
Courtney Williams, a Peekskill mother and cancer researcher, agreed: “This pipeline will run only 400 feet from my daughter’s elementary school. Whether it’s the immediate threat of a pipeline explosion leveling her school or the broader threat global climate change poses to every child, it is wrong to build this pipeline. I owe it to my daughter, her 300 classmates, and every other kid to do something to stop this.” This school also happens to have the largest percentage of children of color of any school in the area.
ResistAIM members are people who have a wide range of beliefs and backgrounds. Many of us live in Westchester, while others live in Putnam, Dutchess and Rockland Counties, or New York City. Our common belief is that we need to stop the AIM pipeline. The longer-range goal is to end America’s dependence on fossil fuels and move to renewable energy sources. We feel that no community should be forced to bear the burden of harmful energy infrastructure. Please JOIN US in Peekskill on Saturday, April 16th, for our We Say NO, We Say Yes Fest, and sign the PLEDGE to get involved and stop this pipeline!
Linda Snider is resident of Westchester and member of ResistAIM. She was one of the first 9 arrestees (the Montrose 9) arrested while blocking Spectra’s wareyard on November 9th. The Montrose 9 have pleaded not guilty to disorderly conduct charges for allegedly disrupting traffic one morning by blocking the entrance to Spectra Energy’s parking lot on Route 9A in Montrose on Nov. 9. They are still currently awaiting a trial date.
ResistAIM are a group of neighbors, parents, advocates and concerned human beings who are standing up against Spectra Energy’s Algonquin Pipeline Expansion.