Environmental group earns right to protest
The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition won a court hearing Tuesday morning for the right to protest a clean centered conference in Huntington. Members of the coalition say the afternoon protest was about drawing public awareness to studies they believe show the negative impacts the industry is having on community health.
St. Mary’s medical center in Huntington filed a restraining order late last week to stop the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition from protesting an event at the St. Mary’s Center for Education on 5th avenue. The event was an Energy and Natural Resource Symposium held by the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce. Using the conference center at the St. Mary’s educational center they hosted Robert Duncan, president and CEO of the American coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
Tuesday morning the petition for the restraining order was denied by Cabell County Circuit Judge Paul Farrell.
“I’m going to deny your request, I suggest you put HPD on notice that you may need assistance if there is an issue. OHVEC is a recognized environmental group that has their agenda, coal people have their agenda and those two shouldn’t clash,” Farrell said.
St. Mary’s maintained any protest may harm the students’ ability to provide care at the educational facility or at the hospital just a couple blocks away. Doug Korstanje is the Director of Marketing and Community Relations at the hospital.
“Our goal is to keep the protesters from blocking the entrances and exits to our 5th avenue campus, in addition to the conference center we also have center for education and outpatient rehab center there and so we just wanted to make sure that protestors weren’t blocking the entrances or the exits and they promise to do that today so we’re pleased. We just want to make sure that everything runs as planned,” Korstanje said.
Janet Keating is the executive director for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. She said their plan was never to interrupt provided care, but to protest the chamber’s speaker at the facility which happens to be owned by the hospital.
“We’re pleased, our overriding concern was that our first amendment rights were being infringed upon and we didn’t want to see any precedent set here. OHVEC has a long history of peaceful rallies and demonstrations and we want to continue that good reputation that we have,” Keating said.
Judge Farrell said as long as OHVEC followed their promise to stay on the public sidewalk nearly 200 feet away from the private facility there wasn’t a problem. Keating said the group felt the need to protest once they learned of the speaker’s message.
“Our big concern is that there have been numerous studies about the health impacts of coal on individuals and communities and community health and we just actually felt like our political leaders have not acknowledged peer reviewed published studies,” Keating said.
Keating said what started as a peaceful rally got more attention than they ever dreamed of.
“It raises public awareness, we had no idea that the hospital would seek a temporary restraining order to keep us from having this rally and ironically we’re getting more publicity as a result of this and that’s fine with us,” Keating said.
Korstanje said the conference has nothing to do with the hospital except that the chamber has rented their facility.
“Well it is a conference center and the chamber of commerce has rented the facility to use for today’s symposium and that’s what’s going on there and again it’s not that we’re taking a stand on the issue it’s just that chamber of commerce is using the conference center for an energy symposium and we want to make sure that goes on as planned,” Korstanje said.
The protest went on as planned Tuesday afternoon.