Pipelines criss-cross the countryside and lie scattered beneath the urban landscape. They bring us things like water, natural gas and gasoline. But what if someone came knocking on your door wanting to put one through your front yard? That’s exactly what is happening across Pennsylvania right now, as pipeline companies use eminent domain to secure land from uncooperative landowners.
Our story begins with 29-year-old Elise Gerhart, sitting up in a white pine tree, on a platform she built about 40 feet high on her parents land in Huntingdon County. Chainsaws roared around her.
“This is my home, you know, I grew up here,” Gerhart shouts down from her perch. My parents owned this place five years before I was born.”
Down below, police officers were guarding work crews and arresting her mother on her own land.
This is eminent domain in action. The idea is that the government can take land for the public good. That’s why we, the public, get to enjoy national parks and drive on highways. One of the earliest enforcements of eminent domain by the federal government was used to expand the Gettysburg National Military Park.
There are times when companies also get the authority to take away private land. And this comes as a surprise to many people. It certainly came as a shock to Elise Gerhart.
“It boggles my mind because it goes against everything you’re taught growing up in America, and the American Dream is to own property.” Gerhart stood with her mother by a stream surrounded by woods on their land days before she decided to take to the tree. “And as it turns out, these companies can just come and take it away from you.”
This story comes from our content partner StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration between WITF and WHYY covering the fiscal and environmental impact of Pennsylvania’s booming energy economy.