Fabricated Charges Used to Silence Pipeline Critics

"The charge filed against me would be laughable if it weren’t for the terrifying reality it exposes: namely, that Williams can pick up the phone and have any one of us hauled into court for daring to oppose the exploitation of our land."

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Two Saturdays ago, my family awoke to the news that the Williams gas company had begun a massive tree-clearing and bulldozing operation in southern Lancaster County. The clear-cutting is part of Williams’ new Rock Springs gas pipeline project, and the company’s opening act was to tear through Fishing Creek, one of the county’s most scenic waterways. The 10-mile pipeline route also violates, on average, a shocking three preserved farms per mile.

My wife, two daughters and I got in our car and drove the few miles to the construction area. Standing beside three other residents gathered at the scene, we watched as towering woods were reduced to mountains of mulch by ear-splitting machinery right before our eyes. We also watched as a 50-foot-wide swath of steep bank along Fishing Creek was stripped bare of all vegetation, without a hint of erosion control in place.

The blare of chainsaws, bulldozers and a cabin-size chipper was accompanied by a steady convoy of trucks rumbling in and out of the site. As the realization dawned on us that we were watching a grim preview of what awaits the rest of Lancaster County if the Atlantic Sunrise gets FERC’s approval, three squad cars came flashing onto the scene.

Williams’ army of workers was apparently feeling threatened by this tiny knot of local residents grieving the loss of another natural treasure along the banks of Fishing Creek. The state troopers dutifully recited guidelines we had no intention of violating: to stay out of the flagged construction zone and to avoid obstructing local traffic.

After the officers left and we, too, were preparing to drive away, I noticed that every vehicle parked along the road at the work site carried an out-of-state license plate. And I mean every plate, without exception: Texas, Illinois, Michigan, New York. Even the logging company hired by Williams to clear-cut the construction corridor was from Wisconsin. Recalling Williams’ empty promises of “the Pennsylvania jobs” its pipelines would generate, I photographed the line of tags parked just off the road, carefully remaining outside the construction zone. Then we drove home.

The next day, an officer phoned my house to charge me with disorderly conduct. I was told that Williams had called the officers back to Fishing Creek after we were gone, accusing me of “interfering with their work.” I’ll now stand before a judge to answer this baseless charge — a charge lodged by a company that’s growing increasingly uneasy about the rising tide of outrage it’s facing here in our county. It’s an outrage swelling daily with every preserved farm it violates, every scenic waterway it gouges, every uneasy landowner it bullies into submission.

The charge filed against me would be laughable if it weren’t for the terrifying reality it exposes: namely, that Williams can pick up the phone and have any one of us hauled into court for daring to oppose the exploitation of our land. We’ve all heard stories of gas industry employees using a variety of intimidation tactics to silence their critics. These stories are no longer about other people living in other places; they are now our stories.

To the thousands of Lancaster County residents concerned about the large-scale industrialization of our county by a fossil-fuel giant plagued with safety violations and a history of bullying landowners, I urge you to defy Williams’ attempts to keep us silent. To those property owners who’ve refused to sign agreements with heavy-handed land agents, I urge you to stand firm and force Williams to seize your land by eminent domain. The industry is growing wary of mounting lawsuits challenging its “right” to seize private property for projects offering so little public good — and so much public harm.

As Williams scrambles in desperation to silence even its most peaceful critics, let’s answer the company’s threats with a deafening refrain of collective noncompliance. Let’s raise a homegrown hymn of resistance — with songs and quilts, marches and lawsuits, research and massive direct action — that drowns out its chainsaws, turns back its bulldozers and ultimately denies it access to the place we call home. May it also serve to remind our politicians and local law enforcement officials whose rights they are sworn to protect.

- Mark Clatterbuck, Martic Township