A sign of what’s in the pipeline? Some area activists show solidarity to Pa. sugarers

  • Contributed photo/Rich GarellaMegan Holleran, left, tells representatives from Williams Partners why her family is denying access to their sugaring operation by the pipeline developers’ tree-cutting crew this week in Pennsylvania.

  • pennsylvania anti-pipeline sign

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, March 01, 2016
*Archive Article*
The plastic tubing that collects sap from sugar maples at the Holleran family’s maple operation in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County is the only pipeline the family wants to see cutting through their 23 acres, but a tree-cutting crew is poised to clear a path for the 125-mile-long Constitution gas pipeline.

So far the family and friends have kept tree-cutters at bay.

But following a Jan. 29 partial notice by federal regulators to proceed with nonmechanized tree cutting, those crews began cutting last week near the New Milford, Pa., sugarbush, located at Mile 5 of the planned natural-gas line that’s already starting to be built to Wright, N.Y., as part of the 416-mile-long Northeast Energy Direct project.

Fearing this is a harbinger of what may lie ahead if regulators OK the planned Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s NED through eight Franklin County towns, some western Massachusetts anti-pipeline activists plan to participate in “nonviolent direct action” to keep the chain saws from the Pennsylvania maples where sugaring activities began last week.

A member of the Sugar Shack Alliance, a newly organized coalition of pipeline opponents whose members have pledged to resist the proposed NED pipeline, Gabriel Shapiro says he and some fellow Hampshire College students plan to drive to Pennsylvania this weekend if needed in solidarity with the Hollerans, who have refused to allow Cabot Oil & Gas and Williams Partners LLC an easement to their property.

“I’ve been in touch with people there, who have been camped out 24/7 in an ongoing blockade, trying to see what their needs are,” says Shapiro, a Hampshire student from Ithaca, N.Y., who has been arrested twice in We Are Seneca Lake protests opposing a plan to store compressed gas in empty salt caverns on the west shore of Seneca Lake in western New York.

“I think it’s incredibly important with the current buildout that our communities are connected and supporting each other, to make a full resolve to keep all fossil fuels in the ground, to stop the pipeline from coming out if Pennsylvania before it even hits New York,” he said. “In western Mass., we’re fighting a NED pipeline that won’t exist if that (Constitution) pipeline doesn’t go in.”

Shapiro said Sugar Shack Alliance, formed over the past year to coordinate nonviolent resistance to the various natural-gas pipeline component projects, has been meeting regularly, with a few Hampshire students among its members from the hilltowns and other communities along the route, “to make sure this pipeline never gets to Massachusetts. We’re fighting this as a unified movement,” with many of its members taking nonviolence training like one planned for Feb. 27 in Amherst. Similar trainings have taken place in Northfield, Cummington and other communities.

Shapiro said that he and other supporters might just wind up helping the family with their sugaring activities, or, if needed, “being there with my body standing in the way of workers trying to cut trees down. It might escalate to someone attaching themselves to a tree or standing directly in front of someone with a chain saw. I have no idea what kind of showdown will occur.”

Megan Holleran, who was out working with other family members on the family sugaring operation where Thursday’s cold temperatures stopped an early sap run, said that a regular presence by neighbors and environmental groups has kept tree-cutting crews from approaching their property.

“They did come to the property yesterday morning in an attempt to cut,” said Halloran, adding that beginning at the origin of the pipeline five miles to the south and continuing on parcels on the other side.

“They came with their full crew and parked all their trucks. I told two Williams representatives and two security guys that we weren’t going to let them cut trees. They tried to explain why they had to, and I explained why we’re going to try and stop them.”

After the company called out state police, she told them as well — with about 30 people assembled — that they would refuse to allow the cutting.

“I think that’s really made the difference when I was speaking with them,” she said. “I think the support here was why they ended up packing up and leaving.”

She described the security crew and contract tree crews as “very nice. … They’re just doing their jobs,” and are amenable to having camera and video documenthow the work is being done. While some neighbors allowed easements to their properties, she said, others are supportive and have asked for delays to try and adjust the route.

A spokesperson for the pipeline company has said the Hollerans refused twice the market value to use their land, and that the pipeline route can’t be changed at that spot.

According to the family, a federal judge ordered a year ago that their property and several others in Susquehanna County be condemned for the pipeline, but the family served a cease-and-desist order on the company, with owner Catherine Holleran writing, “As compensation hearings have yet to be held, we find any action to develop our property to be unconstitutional. We hope that your client will proceed with good faith negotiations with our counsel prior to any tree cutting, especially given their affinity for the name ‘Constitution Pipeline.’”

Her daughter, Megan Holleran, added, “We never signed any agreement. We have no intention of doing so. We’d really prefer that they go around us or don’t build it,” Halloran said. With court challenges still pending, she added, “I don’t think they should be allowed to cut our trees until they’ve got permission. There’s still some legal action that hasn’t been decided. I think it would be really terrible if they cut all our trees right now, then something happened in the courts to stop the pipeline. We don’t want to see any irreparable damage happen when there’s still the chance that might not be necessary.”

If the NED project, planned through Ashfield, Conway, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Northfield and Warwick, is approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, tree cutting along the route here is scheduled to begin in early 2017.

On the Web: www.sugarshackalliance.org www.facebook.com/northharfordmaple

You can reach Richie Davis at rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 269