“All the neat people in Allegany”
The story of a Bump the Dump aficionado
By Kathryn Ross
Jessica Hutchison was raised in North Carolina, but that hasn’t stopped her from finding a home in Allegany County and getting more than comfortable with the county’s most important fight – the Bump the Dump protest. Hutchison is so interested in the protest that for several months she has been creating a series of interviews with the people who opposed the dump and the people who proposed the dump. The interviews can be seen on the Concerned Citizens of Allegany County’s YouTube page.
CAPTION: While filming an interview Jessica Hutchison dons a tri-corn hat that saw most of the protests when it was worn by Sue Beckhorn, songstress and one of the leaders of the movement.
Shortly after moving here in 2010 Hutchison said she was browsing the Alfred State College library when she discovered Tom Peterson’s book, “Linked Arms”. The book chronicles the story of the Bump the Dump movement.
“I remember reading it and thinking ‘Wow, why did no one tell me about this before!’ Shortly after that I found “My Name is Allegany County” on YouTube and I was hooked on the story,” she recalled.
What may have piqued her interest was learning that the county had successfully prohibited the state from contaminating the land with a nuclear waste dump.
She explained, “I got my undergraduate degree in Environmental Soil Science from North Carolina State University in Raleigh and my master’s from the University of Georgia. During my master’s degree, I studied the movement of chromium through soil. Since that time, I’ve always been interested in contaminated soils and how they should be cleaned up.”
After reading Peterson’s book and viewing “My name Is Allegany County” Hutchison started showing the video to her students and then talking with them about how soil is used to dispose of wastes.
Hutchison soon became involved with the Concerned Citizens of Allegany County, the group that led the dump fight in the late 1980s. They are planning to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the conclusion of the fight this April. Hutchison’s interviews are to be part of that celebration.
But why is this young professional so interested in an event that took place almost 20 years before she arrived in the county? She explains, “I have often wondered this myself, as have many others. I think that when “bump-the-dumpers” first meet me, they think I’m a little crazy because I treat them a little like celebrities. I’m not sure exactly what I find so compelling about this story, but I think it’s because I’ve always liked stories about an underdog. Allegany County was such a *“Rudy” of that time. In a world where we often feel small and helpless, this story reminds me that people have the power to band together and get something accomplished. It gives me hope on glum days. The academic part of my brain is also fascinated with discovering how the people here were able to accomplish such a feat that is not often repeated.”
“I think it’s amazing how well prepared the people of Allegany were,” she said. “I’ve pored over documents from the Siting Commission (New York State Low-Level Waste Siting Commission) in the archives of Alfred University and Alfred State College. Within those documents are thousands of hand-written notes from “bump-the-dumpers” analyzing the information, making notes to themselves on things to look up, etc. I cannot agree with some of the siting commission members’ assessments that the people of Allegany County didn’t understand the science behind the dump. It is very apparent to me how well prepared everyone was, from strategy to non-violent training, science to politics, etc.”
After meeting many of the people who were involved in the dump fight and hearing their stories, Hutchison became concerned.
“As I was helping to plan the 30th anniversary of the protest, I started worrying that many of the stories I heard from the people involved would be lost over time. That’s what prompted me to start the oral history project.”
“The response so far has been amazing, and I currently have about 20 people waiting to be interviewed. I hope to continue the project as long as interest remains. Each interview is full of surprises. To quote the BANDITS: “It was right about then, that I started to see, all the neat people, in Allegany.”
“I look forward to each and every interview. I was very excited to complete an interview with Dick Wood (former member of the Siting Commission). Having multiple perspectives on the event is important to understanding it as much as I can without having been part of it. I have not been able to get in touch with any law enforcement involved. I would be very interested in interviewing one of the state troopers, for example,” she said.
Through the interviews Hutchison has found out things few people know such as the members Siting Commission wore bullet-proof vests to the Belfast meeting on the urging of the state police. And that some people in the county were very upset when the horses were brought out at Caneadea.
CAPTION: Jessica Hutchison wears one of the well-known mushroom buttons which became a symbol of the protest.
While those who have seen the interviews say Hutchison is doing a great job, the hardest part of the process is letting go of her need for perfection.
“This event is so important to me and I feel it is my contribution to memorialize it, so, I feel a lot of pressure to portray people in an appropriate way and make good quality video with pictures and footage from that period. However, I’m am not a very “techy” person, so I have had many moments where my computer almost ended up in a ravine,” she admits.
Hutchison and her husband Phil Schroeder moved here in 2010 to teach at Alfred State College and to be closer to extended family. Both teach in the department of Agriculture and Veterinary Technology. Her job puts her in touch with local farmers.
“I’m not a local,” she said, “but I’ve met a lot of people in ten years and I’ve never felt more connected to an area than I do with Allegany County.”
AUTHOR BIO: A native of Wellsville, Kathryn Ross has been a journalist in Allegany County since 1984 and was among those reporters who followed the Bump the Dump protest in its entirety, travelling with the protesters around the state. She is a graduate of Alfred University.