Monday, March 18, 2013

Concerned Residents Win Concession For Free Speech in Protest Injunction

MILFORD, Pa. - Pike County President Judge Joseph Kameen granted a special injunction Monday requested by Tennessee Pipeline Co. against civil disobedience while including special protections for concerned residents' free speech.

Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, sought relief against residents' attempts to speak in favor of and enact civil disobedience blocking controversial pipeline construction.

Judge Kameen's special injunction raises the consequence of defendants' trespassing on the pipeline right of way and blocking access roads in Pike County to include Tennessee's attorney's fees in addition to criminal penalties. However, it explicitly excludes any free speech restrictions by asserting the First Amendment.

On March 13, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. filed a petition for a preliminary injunction against five named defendants and up to one hundred anonymous "Jane Does" and "John Does". Requests included barring them from speaking in favor of civil disobedience on roads leading to construction and in the right of way. The defendants included Gregory Lotorto and Alex Lotorto, father and son from Pike County, Allison Petryk from neighboring Sussex County NJ, and two youth supporters from neighboring Orange County NY.

Specifically, the company's petition requested the court to order, "Enjoining and restraining Defendants, and each of them, their officers, agents, servants, representatives, employees, and members, and all persons in active concert of participation with them who receive actual notice of this Order by personal service or otherwise, from: (sic) (c) encouraging or including others to engage in any of the aforesaid activities or to interfere with Tennessee's right to construct the Project."

The aforesaid activities included "unlawfully interfering with construction of the Project, including entering onto Tennessee's rights of way for the Project in Pike County, occupying trees on those rights of way to disrupt tree felling activities, and blocking Tennessee's access to its rights of way from public roads."

The Northeast Upgrade Project (NEUP) for the Tennessee Gas Pipeline has been the subject of controversy in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. When completed, the upgrade will service thousands of Marcellus Shale gas wells completed using hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", giving incentive for thousands more.

Over the past two years, local residents have organized demonstrations, pipeline tours, public comment, petition drives, phone drives, vigils, and civil disobedience actions including two tree sits and two sit-ins that blocked tree felling activities.

Allison Petyrk, a defendant from Vernon, NJ where TGP Loop 323 will end, said, "Our strategy of direct action using civil disobedience is modeled on our nation's rich history of social justice movements that achieved the women's right to vote, civil rights, and many of the labor protections we have today. There's no wonder this multi-billion dollar company wants to silence speech in favor of this tested method of dissent."

Petryk was not arrested or charged in connection with any civil disobedience actions, but was still named by Tennessee as a defendant.

Tennessee stated in their FERC Weekly Status Report filed last week that tree felling was "100 percent" completed ahead of schedule. However, Tennessee's foundation for "immediate and irreparable harm" in the hearing was that the March 31 Migratory Birds Act deadline for tree felling may not be met without the injunction.

Four of the named defendants were served 586 pages of legal documents on Saturday, March 16 regarding Monday's hearing with no business days available to retain a lawyer, review the paperwork, or assemble evidence to be submitted in their defense. A Stroudsburg-based National Lawyers Guild attorney, Susan Lyons volunteered Sunday to represent them without charge. Lyons stated in the hearing that she did not receive the 586 pages of documents until 7PM on Sunday evening.

Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. representatives arrived with an attorney retained from Saul Ewing LLP, a Philadelphia based oil and gas law firm with over 200 attorneys on staff. They called three witnesses, one who was flown in from Houston.

Susan Lyons said, "It is clear that the company has been preparing this case for weeks and we had only hours to prepare. We're glad that Judge Kameen included specific language to protect First Amendment rights. Now thousands of Pike County residents who object to the pipeline are free to speak in favor of the tradition of civil disobedience."

Despite those facts, Judge Kameen denied Lyons' request for both a continuance and a week long recess to prepare.

Lyons added, "We will be amending our statement of opposition with much evidence in the coming days. We have documentation of dozens of violations they have been cited by the PA Department of Environmental Protection from their 2011 construction up to and including this past week. Many of those violations, including a wetland violation at Craft Brook, a stone's throw from current construction in the Delaware State Forest, are still unremediated."

Lyons continued, "Preliminary injunctive relief should not be granted to a party unless it is urgent. They are still waiting for the final wetlands permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed and they would not have suffered any construction delay during a continuance."

Greg Lotorto, a defendant from Milford, PA, said, "Other parts of the county have already been devastated by this pipeline, including Lackawaxen and Shohola where I watched them proceed daily on my commute to work as head of grounds at Bethel Woods in 2011. Now, they're attempting a full out assault on the Delaware River and our neighbors where only civil disobedience can stand in their way. It's been my trade to make sure this region remains attractive and beautiful for all to enjoy since I built my home here in 1988."

Alex Lotorto, son of Greg Lotorto, said, "This preliminary injunction is intended to intimidate and silence Kinder Morgan's critics, especially those who have lost property values and tourism business in the area due to this project. They stated their pipe segments are being delivered from a port to Milford this week. Perhaps they don't want us to highlight the foreign origin of their steel as they continue to state they provide local jobs."

The pipeline upgrade consists of loops to add extra storage capacity and volume to an already existing pipeline that delivers gas across the Delaware River. According to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission filings by Tennessee, one of two customers for the gas is Statoil, a Norwegian company. Statoil's Chief Financial Officer Torgrim Reitan stated earlier this month, "[Liquefied Natural Gas] export is a viable route and I will encourage the current administration to look at that."

The in-service date for the pipeline is November 1, 2013, according to Tennessee's contract agreements filed with FERC.

Residents will continue to plan for further events and protests. A pipeline tour of the Appalachian Trail crossing at New Jersey's High Point State Park will leave from the Deckertown Turnpike trail head at 10AM on March 30. The hike will be followed by a 12PM strategy discussion in Milford PA at a location to be announced. Upper Delaware River residents will join National Fossil Fools Day actions on April 1 as well. For more information contact Alex Lotorto at 570-269-9589 and check the Stop the Tennessee Pipeline! website at www.notennesseepipeline.blogspot.com

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Alex Lotorto
Non-Profit Consultant
B.A. Political Science, Film Studies
Muhlenberg College, Class of 2009
Pike County, PA Resident
Defendant
570-269-9589

Greg Lotorto
B.A. Horticulture, M.A. Landscape Architecture
Rutgers University, Class of 1975
Grounds Superintendent, Bethel Woods Performing Arts Center
Pike County, PA Resident
Defendant
845-701-7546

Allison Petryk
B.A. Environmental Studies
Ramapo College, Class of 2008
Environmental Educator
Sussex County, NJ Resident
Defendant
973-271-8535

Photos Attached:
Alex Lotorto being served court papers Saturday by a private detective at Tennessee's Montague NJ Pipeyard,
Credit - Jenn Ricca


Local residents stand along Cummins Hill Road with Tennessee Pipeline clearcut behind them,
Credit - Wendy Lynn Lee

 

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