Standing on a table and shouting at public meetings is a felony in Indiana and amounts to “Racketeering” if the offender is a member of an organized citizens group, according to arrest warrants issued April 17 in Pike County for two anti-NAFTA Highway protesters.
In the documents, Pike County Prosecutor Darrin McDonald and a state police officer allege that direct actions by members of the Roadblock EarthFirst! group between June 2007 and August 2008 are felonies under the Indiana Corrupt Business Influence Act, punishable by up to eight years in state prison. The law is Indiana’s version of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a.k.a. RICO.
Two activists -- Hugh F. Farrell and Gina A. “Tiga” Wertz -- were arrested on April 24 and charged with four misdemeanors and felony racketeering for anti-Interstate 69 actions in Petersburg, Oakland City, Evansville and Bloomington. Farrell was released April 28 on bond. Wertz remained in jail as of May 1.
CARR, McANA, SWPCA
The Indiana Department of Transportation's (INDOT) latest cost projections for the southernmost three sections of the Evansville-to-Indianapolis new terrain I-69 highway reveal at least a doubling of costs. Since these sections are the least expensive of the entire route, a conservative estimate of the cost of the project between Evansville and Indianapolis is now $3.6 billion.
When the Evansville-to-Henderson, Ky., segment is added, the total Indiana cost for I-69 is at least $4 billion.
If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, perhaps a 142-mile new terrain I-69 can be stopped with a small meeting. Rather, more accurately, a series of small meetings with big public input.
The Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Policy Committee recently conducted one such meeting. The hearing involved the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and local officials of the elected and appointed variety.
The March 13 meeting considered the future of the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).
Within the bounds of civil government, there exists something called a Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO. Created by Congress in 1962, MPOs function to help coordinate transportation policy within geographic regions and across local and state governments, including state transportation authorities.
The idea behind the MPO wasn’t a bad one. The federal government, meaning Congress, hands out billions of dollars a year to the states for transportation projects. It wanted to make sure that the money it gave out would be spent harmoniously and productively -- it didn’t want to allocate a billion dollars or so to a project only to see the project languish while internecine battles raged between lower government units over the details, scope or utility of the project.
On July 1, journalist Bill Moyers gave a reading from his new book Moyers on Democracy at Barnes & Noble in New York City’s Union Square. Bloomington Alternative editor Steven Higgs was on hand for the event and asked Moyers during the question-and-answer segment about the Interstate 69/NAFTA Highway and the role of resistance and civil disobedience in effecting change in America today.
What follows is a transcript of Higgs’ question and Moyers’ response.
The day after John McCain flew to Canada to glorify the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), 73-year-old Rosie Edwards repeatedly laughed about her flood-ravaged home in Martinsville.
"I've cried all I can cry," the grandmother of 55 grand and great-grandchildren said on June 21 in her moldy, now-gutted home of six years. "I've lost everything."
Just across State Road 37, which Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and his Democratic opponent Jill Long Thompson envision as an extension of the Interstate 69 NAFTA Highway, Bill Bergman likewise chuckled. He became a minor media star after painting "Mitch, Make Me an Offer?" on the side of his home and signed it "I-69 Backer."
"If I don't hear from him soon, it's going to be 'Ditch Mitch' on the roof," said Bergman, who sees I-69 as "part of progress."
Photo Albums: I-69 March -- Martinsville Flood Damage
At 9 p.m. on June 21, dozens of protesters gathered in People’s Park. With signs, whistles, 10-gallon buckets, firecrackers, and torches -- real fucking torches! -- we marched through downtown Bloomington to protest the building of Interstate 69 and the recent arrests of the Evansville and Berkeley tree sitters.
As we moved from Kirkwood to the Courthouse and past the jail, the march amassed both police and onlookers.
At the start of the event, I was carrying a banner at the front of the march. Eventually I managed to free myself up to take pictures. Unfortunately, those pictures were terrible, just awful. So I stopped taking pictures and started asking questions.
Photo Albums: I-69 March -- Martinsville Flood Damage
On May 19, a group opposed to I-69 set up a tree sit along the path of planned construction, just north of Evansville. Located at the north end of the first 1.77 miles of the proposed route, the aerial occupation sits between space cleared for the highway and an off-ramp to State Road 68.
While the small stand of trees is not slated for clearing, demonstrators have anchored their lines to felled trees and debris in the route's path. The sit is composed of two platforms suspended 35 feet in the air. While two activists occupy the platforms at all times, several protesters have taken their turns in the trees. Others have rotated duties as ground support, acting as police and media liaisons, as well as supplying the sitters with food, water and other equipment.
As the aerial occupation enters its third week, it is the longest running Indiana tree sit in seven years. For an inside look at this most recent act of I-69 resistance, The Bloomington Alternative interviewed Bloomington residents Jill and Steven, who have been involved in the tree sit and just recently returned from Evansville.
According to a state funded "Needs Assessment for Local Roads and Streets" from the Indiana LTAP Center at Purdue, 86% of the county roads in Indiana are rated in "critical" need of repair, 30% of our bridges and culverts are rated structurally or functionally "deficient", and 55% of our county bridges have some component with an estimated life of less than 5 years.
The Bloomington Police Department wouldn't issue a parade march to opponents of Interstate 69, but that didn't stop protesters from taking over downtown Bloomington streets on Saturday, April 19 -- accompanied all the way by the Bloomington Police Department.
The parade was sponsored by Roadblock EarthFirst! and was endorsed by the Indiana Forest Alliance, NoSweat!, the I-69 Listening Project and Indiana Students Against War.
Roadblock Earth First! said in an e-mail that the march kicked off a reinvigorated campaign against the road that is sure to last well into the future.
Photo Album, by Steven Higgs