Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Small Victory Against the Tennessee Pipeline in Pike County, PA

A small victory! As much as Kinder Morgan wishes to turn Milford, PA into a nineteenth century company town, residents still can't be guilty of trespass on public land. In a victory for Pike County's rural heritage, I was found not guilty today of trespassing for my March 4th parking job blockade of the Tennessee Pipeline access road in the Delaware State Forest.

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The Tennessee Pipeline Northeast Upgrade Project currently under construction will serve as the main artery to transport Marcellus Shale gas obtained through hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" out of northeast Pennsylvania.

When complete, it will give incentive for thousands more fracked wells to be drilled throughout our region, each requiring millions of gallons of water, thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals, tons of dangerous silica sand, five acres of cleared land for well pads, gathering lines, staging areas, and access roads, compressor stations, dehydrator stations, and waste disposal of toxic liquids and solids.

Kinder Morgan is the third largest energy company in the country after Chevron and Exxon, founded by Richard Kinder, Texas oil and gas tycoon and former president of Enron.

Rifle Range Road in the Delaware State Forest leads to the Tennessee Gas Pipeline right of way. It is being used for tree clearing and dredging of the headwater wetlands for Pinchot Brook, named for former Pennsylvania governor Gifford Pinchot, father of the American Conservation movement, first head of the Department of Forestry.

The Pinchot family made their homestead in Milford where Gifford founded the Yale School of Forestry and staged his opposition to the Big Timber industry for chopping trees faster than they could regenerate. The Pinchot Brook wetland is designated core habitat for endangered species and the Pike County Natural Heritage Inventory recommends that no trees be cleared within 328 feet to filter runoff.

Just beyond Pinchot Brook, the pipeline right of way carves through Dimmick Meadow Brook's headwater wetland, which is also designated core habitat for endangered species under Pennsylvania law and will also be dredged. Dimmick Meadow Brook originates in the Milford Experimental Forest, a pilot reforestation project started by Gifford Pinchot and stewarded by Yale Forestry School students.

Both Pinchot and Dimmick Meadow Brook wetlands host species of concern including Halloween pennant and band-winged meadowhawk, dragonfly species found in a variety of wetland habitats. Mulberry wing is also a butterfly species found, along with Tussock sedge, the host plant for this species. A population of marsh bedstraw, a plant species of concern, is also present as invasive phragmite grasses encroach, originating from the original Tennessee Pipeline right of way constructed in the 1950s.

The Delaware State Forest is a valuable economic engine for Pike County's tourism and recreation industries that can sustain our way of life here as long as we remain stewards of the land and prevent the industrialization of our landscape. In fact Article 1 Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution entitles us to that right.

"Article 1 Section 27 Natural Resources and the Public Estate - The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people."

Prior to 7AM, I parked myself in front of the forest gate, delaying tree crew access for nearly five hours until state police arrived, at which point I complied with the officers' order to move my car.

Judge Fischer found that I can't be charged for trespass in a state forest because it's public land. Kinder Morgan brought their expensive Philadelphia lawyer from Saul Ewing partners and four office staff while I was by myself with a simple Google Map of the area as my defense.

While parked in the forest, I discovered that both the Lehigh Valley and Port Jervis, NY country stations have great reception and promptly blasted Jason Aldean's "Dirt Road Anthem" for the pipeliners to enjoy on their arrival. I have great respect for the men who work hard and follow pipeline projects across the country to feed their families. All of them were paid for the day's work during the delay.

I've labored away at many jobs myself and I hope that working people will organize to shift our economy so that temporary pipeline projects to supply finite energy are retired in favor of permanent, family sustaining jobs that don't require us to destroy our health, our communities' health, or our environment.

After the hearing, I went back to the forest gate where I sighted an otter on the pipeline access road who must be enjoying the stocked trout in nearby Lily Pond. We commiserated over the audacity of humans to destroy the natural resources that sustain us. I think Gifford Pinchot would agree.


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