LUSBY, Maryland — Heather Doyle, an activist with SEED (Stopping Extraction and Exports Destruction), is fighting a bogus charge meant to silence dissent against the construction of a major liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal being built in Cove Point, Maryland. SEED needs to come up with $12,000 to cover lawyer fees for Heather and another activist, which is expectedly difficult for a scrappy grassroots group to raise. Please chip in what you can right now at bit.ly/supportheatherandcarling. (3/31/16: That fundraiser has ended. You can still donate here.)
A police investigator and the State’s Attorney in southern Maryland turned the tables on Heather and the other activist after they filed complaints about unsafe and reprehensible police behavior. In an internal investigation of the complaints, members of the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office lied to cover up the actions of three officers during their response to a protest action at a Dominion construction area tied to its LNG export project at Cove Point.
Heather was assaulted, and both activists had their lives put in danger by Calvert Sheriffs on February 3 while they hung a banner from a crane that read “Dominion, go home. No gas exports. Don’t frack Maryland. Save Cove Point.” Heather filed formal a complaint with Sergeant James Goldsmith on April 30. Instead of holding its officers accountable for their actions, the Sheriff’s Office denied any wrongdoing, covered for each other, and charged Heather and the other protester with making a false statement to a police officer. The Calvert County Sheriff’s Office has done an incredible amount of work trying to build this case against Heather. Dominion Resources, a $40 billion company with a multi-billion dollar investment in Calvert County (including a security services agreement paying the Sheriff’s Office a significant amount each year to be at its beck and call), is suspected of inappropriately pressuring police behind the scenes to go after Heather. It is not a crime to report police abuse, but the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office and Dominion Cove Point appear to be conspiring to quell resistance to the LNG project. For more information on the pattern of police harassment and the unusual relationship between the Calvert Sheriffs and Dominion, view the article published by SNL at https://www.snl.com/InteractiveX/Article.aspx?cdid=A-32933709-12331.
On February 3, Deputy Sergeant Vladimir Bortchevsky choked Heather multiple times with his forearm and forcefully pressed his boot into her chest while the activist was at the base of the arm of the crane. Deputy Robert Brady yanked a climbing rope from Heather, who was belaying a climber further up the crane, and pulled on it as if to pull the climber to the ground. A third sheriff climbed the arm of the crane without proper gear or — seemingly — training, putting himself and the climber in danger. A full account of the police response is at https://seedcoalition.wordpress.com/2015/04/21/activists-were-assaulted-and-put-in-danger-by-calvert-county-sheriffs-office-during-february-action-at-dominion-site/.
Heather waited until her court proceedings were over to file the complaint in order to not incriminate herself before she pled guilty to a trespassing charge. She was sentenced to 40 days at the Calvert County Detention Center, which she served this spring.
“I’m not surprised that this is the kind of lengths that they would go to to discredit people who are working to protect this community,” said Whitney Whiting, an activist with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, working against the construction of Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Virginia. “It’s actually a testament to the fact that the tactics that people are taking on the ground against natural gas infrastructure are working. We only see this kind of pressure on activists when the industry is threatened, and I think that’s a sign that what we’re doing is being effective.”
Ann Nau, a member of Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community, commented, “Dominion has similarly employed strong-arm tactics in the town of Myersville, located in Frederick County, where the citizens overwhelmingly opposed the construction of a compressor station within the town limits, one mile from our only elementary school, in a county that received an F for ozone from the American Lung Association, and in a state with highest number of premature deaths due to air pollution. When our town council unanimously denied Dominion’s application, Dominion sued the town. During construction of the facility, Dominion acted with little regard to the town and damaged town infrastructure. We are used to the aggressive tactics Dominion employs. We stand in solidarity with the citizens and protectors of Lusby who are fighting to protect what we hold dear: the health and safety of our communities and our families.”
“When the system is broken, people are forced to work outside the system,” added Michael Badges-Canning, a resident of Butler County, Pennsylvania, living in the heart of the Marcellus Shale fracking boom. “Heather acted reasonably given the brokenness of the system. As someone living in a sacrifice zone, an area the state permits to be poisoned, I applaud the actions of these two heroes. Unlike the actions of the Calvert County Sherriff’s Office, which claims it is working to keep residents safe, Heather acted boldly to protect us all. Our society is not a healthy one. We use people, and we use places. My home, Butler County, Pennsylvania, is a sacrifice zone, and the people and place are ‘thrown away’ so some might profit. The intimidation, incarceration and maltreatment of Heather and Butler County’s desecration are symptoms of a broken system.”
Due to become operational in late 2017, a best-case scenario has the Dominion Cove Point LNG export terminal emitting 22.5 tons of pollutants each year into the air in Lusby, Calvert County’s most populous area. This is expected to lead to spikes in cases of childhood leukemia and asthma, among other illnesses. A worst-case scenario for this terminal is an explosion that could instantly incinerate everyone living within 0.8 miles (more than 1,000 people), cut residents living on the Cove Point peninsula off from the rest of the mainland and leave them unable to evacuate (also more than 1,000 people), and trigger a Department of Energy-recommended evacuation zone of 2.2 miles around the facility (affecting more than 8,000 people). In addition to up to 14.6 billion cubic feet of LNG, 410,000 gallons of highly pressurized, explosive liquid propane would be stored on site, less than 850 feet from homes on Cove Point Road.
“The very best-case scenario is people die earlier of cancer, respiratory illnesses and cardiovascular illnesses,” said Linda Morin, a Lusby resident, teacher, and member of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community and We Are Cove Point. “It’s a tragedy that the county thinks all of this money will be there for education. What about the kids? Nobody’s thinking about the kids. It’s their actively growing bodies and minds that are the going the most affected. Several of the chemicals that would be emitted have been linked to autism and ADHD. They just haven’t thought this through.”
At this time, there has not been a quantitative risk assessment for the project, which would require an independent party to model worst-case scenarios and develop emergency response plans accordingly. While that seems like a basic and essential component of a project of this scale, politicians at each level have decided to take Dominion’s money in exchange for turning a blind eye to obvious risks and concerns.
Tracey Eno, Cove Point resident, and member of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community and We Are Cove Point commented, “These charges are part of a pattern of intimidation against people resisting Dominion’s fracked gas refinery/power plant/export facility. The Calvert County Sheriff’s Office is complicit with Dominion; it receives 1.25 million annually in exchange for officers to protect Dominion’s interests. Who polices the police? We appreciate the actions taken by Ms. Doyle to support the residents of the Cove Point area by bringing attention to the way Dominion is violating our tranquil community.”
Heather had a motions hearing on November 13. A jury trial is anticipated in early 2016. The other SEED activist had her false statement charge placed on an inactive docket on November 23.
Again, SEED has a steep hill to climb in raising funds for this legal defense. This action was taken to support the well-being of people living around this export terminal and throughout the shalefields that would be impacted by this project. Please donate what you can to support this work — whether it’s $10, $100 or more — at bit.ly/supportheatherandcarling. (3/31/16: That fundraiser has ended. You can still donate here.)
SEED is a group from the mid-Atlantic working against energy projects that are harming residents in the region. This includes mountaintop removal, coal exports, fracking, compressor stations, gas pipelines and the under-construction Dominion Cove Point LNG export terminal. Since its inception in 2014, SEED has been working with other groups and community members in Lusby to protect the welfare of Calvert residents impacted by this terminal and to do what it can to make sure the project is never completed. For more information, visit seedcoalition.wordpress.com.