A Hollow Victory for Williams Partners

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Armed federal marshals oversee clearing of Holleran family maple trees for the 124-mile Constitution Pipeline. Photo By Tom Jefferson. More of Tom’s photos here.


By Ted Glick (reprinted from Future Hope)


The Constitution Pipeline Company, aka Williams Partners, came in force onto the Holleran family land in New Milford, Pa., yesterday. Federal marshals armed with assault rifles accompanied workers armed with chain saws across the open field up to where the woods began. Talk about overkill. Talk about exposing the ugly truth of how things really work in the gas industry.

Supporters of the Hollerans had painted “freedom flags” in red, white and blue onto about 14 trees right at the edge of the field. As the workers did their dirty work, they seemed to avoid cutting any of them at first. Finally, after an hour or so of cutting other trees farther in, they came back and cut most of the freedom trees.

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Activists painted U.S. flags on some of the doomed maple trees at the Holleran farm in northeastern Pennsylvania. Photo by Angela Vogel. 

These should-be-unconstitutional acts of the Constitution Pipeline Co. were sanctioned by a federal judge who said in court on Feb. 19 that if people had problems with their land being taken by eminent domain for private profit, their recourse was to petition Congress. Hah!

The Holleran family and the scores of supporters rallying behind them had a much better understanding of how our very flawed democracy is supposed to work. In the best traditions of this country — Shays’ Rebellion, abolitionists, suffragists, labor organizers, civil rights and gay rights movements — they took grassroots-based direct action to hold off the Williams gang, doing so for 31 days, garnering widespread media coverage in the Scranton/Binghamton area and far beyond. Without question, their stand inspired many other landowners who are facing the same abuse of eminent domain for corporate gain.

It should be noted that it took Williams Partners 11 days to get it together to come to the Holleran family land after claiming in federal court Feb. 19 that they were facing an emergency situation and the judge had to act quickly.

Indications are that part of the reason for their slowness, maybe the main part, was the support of the chainsaw workers imported from around the country — Louisiana, Oregon, Washington — for the stand being taken by the Hollerans. Two weeks ago, I went with local people to a bar where conversations had been going on for a couple of weeks with the workers after work. I talked to one of them from Oregon. He told me that if the same thing the Hollerans were experiencing happened to him and his family, those eminent domain-ing them would be met with shotguns.

I asked him where the crew of workers stood on what the Hollerans were doing. He said, “its about 50-50.” So I was elated to hear, about four days ago, that the workers were now united 100 percent against going on to the Holleran land. We knew that didn’t necessarily mean that they would put down their chainsaws and remain in their trucks and cars if they were told to walk across that Holleran field. We knew the threat of being fired for doing so was no small thing. But we were still gratified and hoping for the best.

As it turned out, yesterday the company brought other chainsaw workers, at least in part. And despite the presence of dozens of us with our cameras and signs and our call-outs when the chainsaws were silent, standing 150 feet away from the land taken by eminent domain where Williams wants to build its pipeline, about half of the trees were cut down. It’s expected they will return today to try to finish up.

There was a lot of media presence yesterday. TV news crews from Scranton and Binghamton. A Time Warner cameraman. NPR from Philadelphia. Megan Holleran doing radio interviews via cell phone. And more.

So the fracked gas industry won one yesterday, and the Hollerans and the people lost. But the fight to prevent the Constitution pipeline from being built and to prevent the construction of new fracking or other fossil fuel infrastructure was strengthened by this battle. Many more people in the area now know the truth about the kind of company Williams is. They know that there is a small army of people willing to support those landowners willing to fight for their land and their rights. And that army is growing, all over the country.

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