The term “private property” is supposed to mean something, but for Huntingdon County residents, that’s not always the case.
And for these residents with property in the path of Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline, protesting is not an option — unless they want to be put behind bars, too.
The Mariner East 2 is a 350-plus mile long project comprised of two new pipelines starting in southeastern Ohio and running through northern West Virginia and across the length of Pennsylvania. The pipelines will carry natural gas liquids (NGLs) like butane, ethane, and propane to an export facility along the Delaware River in Marcus Hook, PA.
Thanks to Common Pleas Court Judge George Zanic, who recently signed a “writ of possession” order to keep landowners from protesting pipeline construction by occupying trees on their own property, privacy is not an option. In fact, those who do protest on their own property can be arrested.
Residents are shocked. “We’re seriously looking at going to jail,” said Elyse Gerhart in an interview with NPR. “I’m not the type of person who lets injustice go unchallenged, and neither is my mother. What we’re doing makes [Sunoco] show their true face.”
Elyse, along with her parents Ellen and Stephen Gerhart of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, have been actively speaking out against the pipeline’s 350 mile route, and its ability to take away their right to private property.
In fact, Ellen Gerhart was arrested last year for trespassing on her own property. The charges were dropped, but the event sent a clear message that protesting will not be tolerated. Sunoco can now enlist law enforcement under the new writ to arrest anyone within the easement, even those on their own property.
Of major concern regarding the project is Sunoco Logistics’ — who just completed a merger with Energy Transfer Partners of Dakota Access Pipeline fame just two days ago — disregard for the beauty of Appalachia, the preservation of its diverse ecosystems, and the safety of the people who live here. This has led Elyse and other activists to occupy treetops on their own properties.
The fact that arrests are the government’s answer shouldn’t really come as a shock given the state of the DAPL. Though alarming, theft of private property at the expense of a pipeline is to be expected in a world where greed most often rules, especially for Big Oil.
The Gerharts’ private property sits on 27 acres of forest and wetlands in Huntingdon County. They refused to voluntarily grant an easement and its 50-foot wide right-of-way with additional 25-foot staging area for the Mariner East line, arguing in their appeal to the Commonwealth Court that Sunoco’s planned liquid natural gas pipeline is not in the public interest.
Sunoco says the Mariner East 2 will provide heating oil needed to parts of Pennsylvania.
“We are proceeding with construction in Huntingdon County and elsewhere and will conduct ourselves according to the law at all times,” Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields said.
Rich Raiders, the Gerharts’ attorney, calls the writ of possession “very rare and very unusual.”