State troopers had to bring out extra barricades Wednesday to accommodate hundreds of protesters determined to make a point during Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address.
The timing of the speech was good news to vendors at the Empire State Plaza’s Farmers Market, held each Wednesday, and the weather didn’t impede travel for an estimated 2,000 anti-hydrofracturing picketers who filled the plaza’s concourse.
One of numerous group organizers said this year’s demonstration drew the biggest crowd of people determined to stymie any start of natural gas exploration via hydrofracturing in New York.
Also called “fracking,” hydrofracturing involves injecting fluid under high pressure underground to release pockets of natural gas trapped in rock formations such as the Utica and Marcellus shale formations.
After learning massive amounts of gas sits in the Marcellus shale formation beneath the state’s Southern Tier, gas companies began securing land leases to drill while activists launched a No Fracking campaign.
Hydrofracking has been under review at the state level for more than five years, and protesters Wednesday called on Cuomo to ban the practice altogether. The process of injecting chemical-filled water deep underground sparks opposition by those concerned with the chance of water contamination and other effects.
“We know people who have had their water affected [by hydrofracturing],” said John Kesich, who lives in Tioga County, Pa., about 100 miles southwest of Binghamton.
Hydrofracturing is well underway in Pennsylvania, which allows it.
“Pennsylvania is a lost cause, so we’re trying to save New York,” said Emily Rizzo, Kesich’s wife.
There did not appear to be any representatives from the gas or drilling industries at the address Wednesday, but hydrofracturing wasn’t the only focus for picketers. Several held signs decrying the state’s controversial gun control legislation called the SAFE Act, and others held signs calling for the legalization of medical marijuana in New York.
Picketers were holding their signs in one hand and pulling out cash with the other up and down the concourse during the day at the Farmers Market. Farmers and merchants laid out a bounty of produce, pickles, spaghetti sauce and fudge, as they do every Wednesday during the winter, but some said they brought an extra supply because they expected a bigger crowd.
Michelle Moricone said she brought extra marinara sauce after she heard a crowd would be heading to the plaza Wednesday. The 20-year nurse retired and started selling her Meesh’s Marinara sauce by the jar in 2011. It’s her grandfather’s recipe, which her father taught her.
“It tastes like it’s freshly made,” Moricone said.
Jacki Ravida brought extra penuche, a hand-stirred brown sugar fudge with no chocolate, as well as more glazed cinnamon doughnuts and apple pie cheesecake varieties.
Ravida said her home-based Insane Fudge Co. puts a focus on buying locally made ingredients — like local apple pies that are stirred right into the fudge.
“It’s actually going very well,” Ravida said of the day’s business.
Turnips, potatoes, garlic, mushrooms and onions were but a few items farmer Ron Bulich brought from his Bulich’s Creekside Farm in Catskill. But the 25-year Albany farmers market vendor was sure the lettuce would be the biggest lure for customers because it’s green and “it’s all white and snow outside.”
Banners and T-shirts carried the same message in a variety of ways. One man wore a T-shirt with an image of Smokey the Bear that read “Only you can stop faucet fires;” another held a sign that read “Wine not Brine.”
Protester Kristina Turechek of Laurens, Otsego County, held a sign that read “7 Generations.” Turechek, who is of Native American descent, said her ancestors would consider what impact their decisions would have seven generations later before they made those decisions.
“Think about the impact of your actions,” Turechek said.
Susan Multer of Ithaca was passing out fliers detailing the chemicals she said are contained in hydrofracturing water. But she said she is more concerned with the use of heavy machinery required to drill.
“Air pollution is going to be worse than water pollution,” said Multer, who was marking her fifth straight year of picketing the governor’s State of the State address.
Picketer Julia Walsh, a campaign director for Frack Action, said it didn’t matter to her if the governor mentioned hydrofracturing during his speech or not.
“I think the fact that our movement is continuing to grow is a real sign to the governor that he needs to ban fracking in New York,” Walsh said.