Pipeline company seeks court order to remove tree protesters
A pipeline company blocked from cutting down maple trees at a Susquehanna County family business seeks a court order to allow state police to remove protesters preventing it from clearing the land.
Catherine Holleran and three other property owners should be held in contempt of court for violating a court order that granted the company permission to fell trees on their New Milford Twp. property, argues Elizabeth Witmer, attorney for Constitution Pipeline Company.
Loggers for Constitution arrived at the property Wednesday, but were turned away by about 30 protesters, including Megan Holleran, daughter of Catherine Holleran. State police were called, but troopers advised the company they could not remove the protesters without a court order, Ms. Witmer says in an emergency motion filed Friday in federal court.
Constitution has been battling the Holleran family and other property owners, Patricia Glover, Dustin Webster and Michael and Maryann Zeffer, regarding the acquisition of property needed to construct a 124-mile natural gas pipeline that will transport natural gas from Susquehanna County to New York and New England.
Constitution offered the property owners more than $3,000, which it says exceeds the appraised value of the land, according to court documents. The owners rejected the offer, arguing the appraisal was not properly done.
That led Constitution to seek to take the property through eminent domain. Judge Malachy Mannion ruled in favor of Constitution on March 17, 2015. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, granted the firm permission last month to fell the trees.
Despite Judge Mannion's and FERC's orders, the Hollerans and other protesters have occupied the property, preventing Constitution from cutting the trees by standing in the fall zone, creating a safety risk, Ms. Witmer says in the motion. The protesters interference threatens the pipeline project as the FERC order requires the trees be cut by March 31 so not to affect migratory birds.
Contacted Monday, Megan Holleran said she wants to halt the cutting of the trees until a federal appellate court in New York rules on a separate challenge to the pipeline project that was filed by a group known as Stop the Pipeline. That case challenges FERC's approval of the project. While it's not directly related to her family's dispute, the outcome of the New York case could impact their case, she said.
"While that's still pending we think it's premature to take action on our land," she said. "If they cut the trees too soon, it's an error you can't take back."
Ms. Holleran said the protests have been peaceful. She was surprised Constitution filed the emergency motion.
"We are not doing anything illegal or to try to inspire a conflict," she said. "We had an extremely polite interaction. ... I asked them to leave and they did."
Ms. Witmer stressed Constitution is not seeking to bar the property owners from continuing their protest, so long as they do so peacefully and do not interfere with the loggers or otherwise pose a safety threat.
The property owners will have an opportunity to respond to the motion. Ms. Witmer requested Judge Mannion rule on the matter as soon as possible given the deadline the company faces to fell the trees.
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