July 22–Crouched on a rain-soaked rise once shaded by sugar maples in New Milford Twp., Catherine Holleran parted the tall grass and raised a sign of the time before saws and bulldozers stripped the hillside.
“No Pipeline,” reads the red-white-and-blue sign. It was supplied by the Shale Justice Coalition, a network of anti-fracking and environmental groups opposed to the stalled Constitution Pipeline project that cost the Hollerans more than 500 trees, about half of which were vital to the family’s maple syrup business.
I met the Hollerans in February 2016. Backed by a small band of protesters, Catherine, 62, husband Tom, 63, and daughter Megan, 32, held the high ground on their 23-acre farm off Three Lakes Road. Constitution won a federal injunction to seize about five acres of the Susquehanna County property for a 125-mile natural gas pipeline to New York.
Empire State environmental regulators were still considering Constitution’s permit application. The Hollerans asked Constitution to spare their trees until the process played out. Constitution was unmoved. In March 2016, the corporation sent cutting crews guarded by federal marshals with semiautomatic weapons.
A month later, New York nixed the project. An appeals court upheld the decision. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case. More than two years after Constitution willfully damaged the Hollerans’ property, the pipeline project is effectively dead and the corporation has paid no restitution to the family. Some of those trees were 200 years old, Catherine said when I visited this week.
“And then there are all the saplings we lost,” she said. “They were trees, too.”
Constitution left the trees where they fell for a full year before sending clean-up crews. The remains of some are still stacked like moldering bones in piles on the hillside. Aside from firewood, they are useless.
“They didn’t have to do this,” Catherine said. She believes Constitution harmed her family’s land because they dared to stand their ground.
“They targeted us because we spoke out against the pipeline,” she said. “I think they decided, ‘We’re going to make an example out of these people.'”
On July 12, the Hollerans filed a petition asking a federal judge to vacate the injunction that gave Constitution access to their land. Constitution’s key argument for eminent domain was urgency. The corporation claimed it could lose $60,000 for each day of delay. After three years, the project seems anything but imminent.
Constitution remains committed to the project, and expects the pipeline to be built, spokesman Christopher Stockton told me Thursday.
“The project represents much-needed energy infrastructure designed to bring natural gas to a region of the country that this past winter experienced the highest natural gas prices in the world,” he said.
Constitution asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a new hearing on the corporation’s claim that New York regulators waived a key permit requirement, Stockton said. If the agency refuses, Stockton said the company will petition the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for review.
Meanwhile, the Hollerans don’t believe the pipeline will ever be built and have asked for a jury trial to determine what compensation they deserve. It is unconstitutional to take land through eminent domain without making the owners whole.
Whatever the Hollerans eventually get out of this fiasco, Catherine said it will never make up for three years of physical, financial and emotional damage that didn’t need to be.
“This land has been in our family for over 60 years,” she said. “To see it torn apart for no good reason is heartbreaking. I grew up here. It’s not just property. It’s home.”
CHRIS KELLY, the Times-Tribune columnist, thinks Constitution should mean more than a pipeline. Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org, @cjkink on Twitter. Read his award-winning blog at timestribuneblogs.com/kelly.
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