Spring, Destruction and More Surveillance Come to Camp White Pine

When I came to Camp White Pine last summer the sound of birds filled the Pennsylvania woods. This spring the woods were beginning to come awake but so were construction vehicles destroying those woods to build Energy Transfer Partner ‘s Mariner East 2 pipeline.

The Mariner East 2 is set to cut 350 miles across southern Pennsylvania. Construction on the pipeline has caused dozens of spills, multiple cases of water contamination and sinkholes to develop in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

And on April 8, early in the morning, Energy Transfer Partners came for the trees of Camp White Pine.

For two years, three tree sits in the path of the fracked gas liquids pipeline have halted construction on the Gerhart family homestead in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. That Sunday morning the company came in and cut down the three tall white pines.

 Tree sit before the three white pines were cut down on April 8.

Tree sit before the three white pines were cut down on April 8.

“I just consider it the closing of chapter one and now we’re going to start chapter two,” said Ellen Gerhart. “If Sunoco thought by coming in here and cutting the trees down that was going to make us tuck our tail between our legs and take off, they were sadly mistaken.”

In 2017, Sunoco, the company building the Mariner East 2, merged with Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the notorious company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline. Along with their track record of environmental degradation, the Intercept reports that ETP has brought their shadowy security mercenary company, Tiger Swan, along with them to Pennsylvania.

“We’re fairly certain that they’ve been keeping watch on things,” said Ellen. “So they had a fairly good idea anyway how many people were on the property and if anybody was up in the sit.

Ellen said she noticed the tree cutting crew at 6:30 in the morning when she went to let the chickens out. By the time they got down to the trees it was too late.

“The first day it was hard, but I was more angry than anything,” said Ellen looking at the site where the tree sits use to stand in the three white pines high above the ground. “The second day was more of like a grieving day, but by the third day I was back to being ticked off.”

After the trees were cut, Ellen’s daughter Elise, who was one of the individuals who took to the trees when the company originally came to clear them in March 2016, dug up six tiny white pine saplings and transplanted them.

“There’s a continuation. They’re going to keep going,” said Ellen. “That’s the one thing about the forest n’at, it will keep trying to come back.”

From the site of the fallen trees sits, Ellen took me along the route of the pipeline. In addition to the pink ribbons that mark the boundary of the easement, she pointed out white signs where the company had made blown-up copies of the injunction that forbids the Gerharts from going on to their own land, and stuck them on wooden posts in at least 20 places.

The Gerharts and many other families along the pipeline route argue that the company should have never been allowed to seize their land by eminent domain since the fracked gas liquids transported by the pipeline will be exported from Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania and shipped overseas to make plastics.

Eminent domain is only suppose to be granted for projects for “public use”.

As we walk in the woods along the pipeline route Ellen points out more small white pines growing in. It’s still cold out but the whole forest seems on the verge of exploding into life. The whole forest outside of the easement, that is.

Inside the easement tall trees lay pilled up in pieces waiting for the chipper and the wetlands are covered by a temporary wooden structure and erosion prevention socks to keep dirt and debris from washing into the creek.

“The things of it is we never needed erosion socks before,” said Ellen. “The trees did just a fine job of keeping that soil together. But you take away the trees, this is what you get left with.

She then points out another sign marking the wetland boundary. It’s upside down.

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“You can see how close the edge of the easement is to the stream we have going through here that feeds into our pond,” said Ellen. Their pond then feeds into Little Trough Creek, a tributary to the Juniata River.

“There’s a connection here they seem to fail to recognize,” she said.

In addition to the injunction signs, and upside down wetlands sign, there are also blue signs that said, “Notice. Audio and visual recording in progress.”

“They have all kinds of security set up around here, “ said Ellen. “Because we must look dangerous.”

She told me that morning she began reading Shakespeare to them. Security has set up a green structure on the easement to keep a watch on the construction site and, as the Gerharts believe, all of Camp White Pine.

They also set up some sort of security tower that has cameras, floodlights and ironically, solar panels.

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