Prove your humanity

As the chain saws revved nearby, Elise Gerhart was literally up a tree Tuesday protesting a pipeline slated to course through her family’s wooded property.

Gerhart, 29, of Huntingdon, and about 20 protesters coalesced around the Gerhart property as a work crew—chaperoned by local sheriff’s officers—took down trees along the property. Two protesters were arrested as the work crews cleared land for Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 2 pipeline, which will carry natural gas liquids from Ohio, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania to the Philadelphia area.

The company was granted a right-of-way on the Gerhart’s land by a judge through eminent domain in January. Though they are appealing that decision, the Gerharts were ordered by Huntingdon County Common Pleas Court Judge George Zanik Monday to stay clear of the chain saw crews.

Elise Gerhart said she didn’t know what else to do, so she climbed a tree early Tuesday to keep the crews away from at least one tree. 

“We’ve been forced to do this because the government isn’t protecting us,” Gerhart said, wearing a helmet and sitting on a platform wedged between branches of the tree, 40 feet in the air. “These agencies aren’t doing their job to protect the people and the environment.”

Two protesters were arrested for violating the judge’s orders. Huntingdon County District Attorney Dave Smith says the protesters were Elizabeth Glunt of Altoona and Alexander Lotorto of Milford. Bail for each was set at $100,000.

The chainsaw crew was attempting to finish the cutting by March 31, the end of tree-clearing season established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect migratory birds and the Indiana bat.

Elise Gerhart said she would stay in the tree until the end of the week, when the tree-clearing season ends.

The Gerharts bought the property in 1982 and have participated in a state program to preserve forestland on their property.

As she watched a chainsaw crew cut down a tall tree, Ellen Gerhart, Elise’s mother, teared up.

“It’s our little part we thought we could do some good in by at least protecting three acres of Pennsylvania.” 

The Gerharts are among dozens of property owners in Pennsylvania fighting with Sunoco over Mariner East 2. The $2.5 billion pipeline travels through 2,700 properties in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Company spokesman Jeff Shields said in an e-mail that the pipeline will carry “mostly propane and butane, with some ethane.” These liquids can be used for home heating but also as the raw materials for plastics. Shields says the ethane would be exported from the Marcus Hook industrial complex in Philadelphia overseas but eventually could be “part of other petrochemical processing units” at the complex. 

“(T)oday Sunoco Pipeline proceeded under the law and continued with our tree-felling activity in Huntingdon County,” Shields said. “We will continue to work with landowners to address their individual needs and concerns, but as the court noted, protesters do not have the right to prevent Sunoco Pipeline from conducting lawful activity.”