U.S. Marshals Enforce Eminent Domain for Constitution Pipeline

Armed U.S. Marshals escort Williams Company workers./ Photo by Vera Scroggins

Armed U.S. Marshals escort Williams Company workers to cut down trees./ Photo by Vera Scroggins

The land of the free got a little smaller this week when cutters from Williams Partners Company began clear-cutting trees on the Zeffer-Holleran property, readying it for construction of the Constitution pipeline. Five acres of the property were condemned under eminent domain to build the natural gas pipeline.

A dozen Pennsylvania State police and heavily armed U.S. Marshals escorted scores of tree cutters to remove hundreds of sugar bush maple trees from the property. The Marshals carried AR-15 assault weapons and wore bullet proof vests.

But when the cutters began tree removal they encountered trees with U.S. flags activists had painted on them. Activists stood out of the way during the cutting but held large signs spelling “People Not Pipelines.”

As land owner Megan Holleran watched the tree removal she kneeled in silence as the maples fell. “They made a very clear demonstration today, that all of their talk of dealing with landowners with respect and fairness couldn’t be further from the truth. They refused to see us as people and brought guns to our home,” she said.

Her mother, Catherine Holleran said, “We were shocked. I don’t know what in the world they thought they were going to encounter,” she said in response to the militarized force. “Nobody was giving them a hard time,” she said.

Allies stood by the Hollerans as their maple syrup business was destroyed./Photo by Vera Scroggins

Allies stand by the Hollerans as their maple syrup business is destroyed./Photo by Vera Scroggins

The Hollerans were joined by over a hundred environmentalists and supporters from the region in the month-long delay of the project. Nearly a thousand more supported them with donations of money and supplies, according to land owner Catherine Holleran. Calls of encouragement came from countries around the world, including France, Chile, Australia, according to Megan Holleran.

Vera Scroggins, a resident of Susquehanna County, railed against the builders, calling them “bullies” responsible for “raiding land and destroying property for profit.” Scroggins also rebuked Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf for being “nowhere to be found” when the people of Pennsylvania needed him most. “Our state has become a corporatocracy – where are our elected officials?” she asked. She documented the cutting with video and photographs.

The Hollerans have owned the 23-acre tract since 1950, when Megan Holleran’s grandfather bought it to start the Harford Maple Syrup business. Losing the hundreds of sugar bush maple trees will effectively end 90% of their business.

Cabot Oil & Gas Company and Williams Partners applied for permission to build the 124-mile project in 2013. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granted the first approvals to cut trees in Susquehanna County in January of this year. However, no permits have been issued to begin cutting in New York. The 30″ pipeline is planned to run from Susquehanna County, PA to Scholaire County, NY, 24 miles of which runs through Pennsylvania.

U.S. Marshals wore body armor and carried AR-15 assault weapons./ Photo by Vera Scroggins

U.S. Marshals wear body armor and carry AR-15 assault weapons./ Photo by Vera Scroggins

Williams representatives and tree cutters first showed up at the Holleran property on February 11th, but the Hollerans and about 30 supporters, asked them not to begin cutting. The Williams official called State police, but police refused to enforce the permit, so the cutters left. But on February 19, a Federal Magistrate called the Hollerans into court, ordering them to comply with the order to cut.

The $683 million Constitution pipeline has been at the center of a growing regional resistance in Pennsylvania against hydraulic fracturing infrastructure, also known as “fracking.” Thousands of miles of gas pipelines have already been approved and permitted across the nation by FERC. Since 2009, when the fracking boom began ramping up in the Northeast U.S., over 9,000 fracking wells have been drilled across Pennsylvania. Susquehanna County sits on top of the Marcellus coal belt, the source of natural gas from fracking.

The Hollerans are among thousands affected by natural gas pipeline and infrastructure projects being approved by energy agency FERC with a Borg-like efficiency.

Organizer Gabriel Shapiro, a second-year student at Hampshire College, organized students from western Massachusetts to stand with the Hollerans. He said that the action at the Holleran property has built strong alliances across many states. “The positive outcomes I see from this issue is an ever stronger regional pipeline opposition movement,” he said. “People from dozens of states are watching,” he added.

Shapiro believes others can identify with the distress of the Holleran family because they realize it could easily have happened on their property as well. “What the corporations and the government behind this project don’t realize, is that we are ready for a full-scale people’s mobilization to rise up against this widespread Pipeline Epidemic,” he said.

On Wednesday just one day after cutting had begun, Megan Holleran was already in Albany, speaking out against approval of permits for the Constitution pipeline in New York.