Environment, Rights & Responsibilities

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The singer Rebecca Martin helped keep Niagara, a water-bottling company, from tapping a reservoir near her adopted home, in upstate New York. “What’s more important than drinking water? Nothing,” she says. PHOTOGRAPH BY PAT KEPIC

Thanks to Alexis Okeowo for this note about actions our fellow citizens take, a reminder of our rights and responsibilities:

A JAZZ SINGER FIGHTS NIAGARA BOTTLING

By Alexis Okeowo

For years, Rebecca Martin was used to being transient, without a permanent home or commitments. As a jazz musician who performed both solo and with a band named Once Blue, Martin spent much of her time on the road touring and performing, while being loosely based in New York City. When she decided, almost fifteen years ago, to move to Kingston, ninety miles north of the city on the Hudson River, she felt a sense of relief. She had “really lost touch with the idea of community and responsibility to one another,” she said, and took the chance to grow her family and settle down. She started noticing ways that her new town could improve. There was a shop in her neighborhood that was selling large knives, big enough to be called swords, near two schools.

After contacting the local alderman and not hearing back, she organized a public meeting that was attended by her neighbors, the mayor, and other officials. The police soon confiscated the knives; they turned out to be illegal. “Most people had no idea at the time how the city government was set up,” Martin said, of her neighbors. She got into community organizing, helping to found a group called KingstonCitizens.org (which now has upward of thirty-five hundred members) that set up urban gardens, worked to protect African-American heritage sites, and planned other ventures in the town. So when she began to see items in the local paper, in the fall of 2014, saying that Niagara, a water-bottling company, was coming to the area, she panicked at first, but then decided to fight back. “We knew that Niagara probably didn’t care about any environmental arguments,” Martin said. “What was unusual about the fight is that we went after all the different avenues of revenue they stood to gain. When we looked closely at tax incentives, grants, and other public funding Niagara stood to gain, it turned out to be tens of millions of dollars. The economic-development sound bites of those proposing Niagara would be a good business for our region turned out to be a bucket of holes.”

To Martin and the other, mostly women activists, including the environmental lawyer Kate Hudson, Niagara’s plan to source water from Kingston’s Cooper Lake reservoir, in the town of Woodstock, and sell it in stores was a personal affront. “Our group’s initial objection was that an enormous amount of the city of Kingston’s public water supply—1.75 million gallons per day—was to be sold to a bottling company to bottle and to sell without enough evidence that our water source could maintain that amount over the long haul,” she explained. “We were also disturbed that a multimillion-dollar corporation was allowed to purchase our water at a fraction of what local residents and businesses pay.” Generations of families in the area had invested in the local water infrastructure for a century, but, without warning, a water board could decide what would happen to a public resource without consulting the community. Martin and her fellow-activists began organizing public meetings to make residents aware of what was happening, and they went to meetings of the Kingston Common Council and Kingston Water Board to interrogate members on their decision-making. “That’s what we were managing—from my bedroom,” Martin said, laughing. It worked: in February, Niagara dropped its proposal. (In a statement to a local paper at the time, the company did not give a reason for pulling out, saying that “we intend to continue our site selection process in search of communities and sites that meet our project criteria.”)…

Read the whole post here.

One thought on “Environment, Rights & Responsibilities

  1. Pingback: Environment, Rights & Responsibilities — La Paz Group | O LADO ESCURO DA LUA

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