Pennsylvania Farm Defended Against Constitution Pipeline Tree Cutters

Activists defend a Pennsylvania maple syrup farm against tree-cutting for a pipeline./Photo by Vera Scroggins
Activists defend a Pennsylvania maple syrup farm against tree-cutting for a pipeline./Photo by Vera Scroggins

Clear-cutting of trees on a Pennsylvania family farm for the Constitution Pipeline was held off another day by successful negotiations between property owners and pipeline company representatives. The discussion was backed up by a large group of pipeline opponents, who stood ready to block the incursion of tree cutters.

Dozens of people have traveled long distances to join hands on the Zeffer-Holleran property near New Milford, PA and defend five acres of old-growth trees in the path of the 125-mile-long Constitution Pipeline. The conflict escalated early on Wednesday when twenty loggers attempted to begin cutting trees. After both sides discussed their positions, a representative from Williams Partners called state troopers, according to Megan Holleran. The troopers told Williams Partners and the tree cutters that they would not be enforcing any action, so the cutters left the site for the day.

The impasse with joint pipeline owners Cabot Oil & Gas Co. and Williams Partners, LLC, is in its second week. The Holleran family has been harvesting maple syrup since they acquired the land in the 1950’s. They market the syrup locally as part of a family business.

Though the project is facing legal challenges in Second District Court, the loggers are already removing trees along a 20-mile segment in northwestern Pennsylvania. The pipeline will be used to transport natural gas from fracking wells in Susquehanna County to New York and New Hampshire. Cabot and Williams requested permission to cut down trees in New York, but it is barred until the project obtains a water-quality permit.

After acquiring permits to build from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Cabot and Williams have used eminent domain to seize land along the right-of-way, including five acres of the Holleran’s property. Hundreds of acres have already been cleared from other properties to build the $700 million project.

But Catherine Holleran, who co-owns the property with five other family members, believes that eminent domain is being abused in this case. “It’s not for the good of the public. It’s certainly not good for the people who are here,” she said. “We’re never going to get gas piped to our home where we live.”

The Hollerans live in a community so rural that cable service and Internet access are not available and cellular phone access is difficult. There is also no gas utility service expected to come there as a result of the pipeline. She argues that a gas pipeline is not in the public interest, a requirement for eminent domain, at least not in any part of her community.

Photo by Vera Scroggins
Photo by Vera Scroggins

Catherine Holleran said there was never any signed agreement between her family and the pipeline builders, nor have they been given any compensation for potential damage to her land or loss to the family maple syrup business. Even worse, the tree cutting is scheduled for the time when the Hollerans begin harvesting sap from the sugar bush maple trees. “We have specialty shops and sell out of our web site and sugar shack at our home,” said Catherine Holleran. “There are about 150 maples that are tappable.” But tree cutting will destroy this year’s harvest.

Catherine Holleran is grateful for the support. “The folks here are terrific people. I’ve never seen such an outpouring of support and volunteer effort,” she said. “They just want to do what they can to resist having somebody come and take our land against our will.” According to her, the dispute has remained “respectful, so far.”

“Everyone is sticking together…some of them are there to do or die, chain [them]self to a tree or haul us away,” she said.

Her daughter, Megan, an archeologist who put out the call for help, has been floored by the support they have received. “I’m getting messages from Australia, France, Chile, and Canada,” she said. “We were contacted by people from everywhere who are offering resources and donations to feed people out here.”

Over a hundred people have come to the farm to protect the trees, some driving as much as eight hours. Vera Scroggins from Susquehanna County has been there since it began. “I’m very moved to see all the community participation. It’s the first time such an action has happened in our community to stop activity such as this,” she said.

Scroggins has been recording gas industry activity in Susquehanna County and posting video on YouTube for over four years. “We’re looking to keep it going no matter what,” she said of the action. “We have different levels of strategies and we’re going to walk the line to put ourselves between them and the trees to stop them.”

Photo by Vera Scroggins
Megan Holleran speaks to TV reporters./Photo by Vera Scroggins

Megan Holleran believes community cohesion has struck a chord many can relate to. “It’s amazing how widespread this is , because it’s such a universal issue and everyone can relate to this and think ‘what if it were my property?'” she said.

She also said she intends to do whatever she can within the law to stop tree-cutting on her land. “We’re trying to stop irreparable damage out here.”

Catherine Holleran remains hopeful a mutual solution can be found. “I hope it will have an amicable end, and we can come to some kind of terms that both of us can walk away somewhat satisfied.”

To donate or assist the Holleran family, you can contact them on their Facebook page.