When people talk about pipelines they often repeat vague statements they have heard in the press – pipelines are safe, pipelines are dangerous, we need the gas, we need to switch to renewables. By reiterating those statements, people keep the issue at a distance; It is less personal and less real. For dozens of families in our area pipelines are very real and very personal because they have been confronted in their driveways and church parking lots by strangers: process servers shoving packets of legal documents in their hand and retreating quickly while announcing ominously and dispassionately “you’ve been served.” In recent days residents have been startled by sheriff deputies knocking on their doors to serve court papers, informing the recipients that Constitution pipeline is moving to condemn a portion of their private property in order to force an easement for their proposed 30” high-pressure gas pipeline that will transport gas from the fracking fields of Pennsylvania to Canada and ultimately to overseas export markets. This sad scenario has been playing out since just before Christmas and is continuing right here in Schoharie County.
I have spoken to many of those who have been served or are looking over their shoulders knowing they will be next. Many are elderly and living on fixed incomes. Some are in poor health. Almost all are frightened, angry and depressed. None of them deserve it.
They are learning not only about a horribly unjust system that allows a corporation to raid the private property of average citizens but also prevents most people from defending themselves. For these landowners the condemnations will play out in Federal Court where the rules prevent landowners from recovering the cost of their legal defense. Consequently, few can afford to hire attorneys that charge $250-$300 per hour to fight eminent domain. So most of the landowners will give up and watch their land devalued and the dreams they had for their properties extinguished. After that, they get to live next to a pipeline build by companies with horrific safety records. I have listened to the heart wrenching story of a an elderly woman who promised her late husband that she would preserve the land he loved in its natural state only to learn that her promise will be forcibly broken by a pipeline company who will clear cut a nearly 100’ wide swath through her woodlot, gardens and meadow. I have heard the story of the retiree who saved his entire life to build a modest home in the country – on the spot that may be a pipeline right-of-way kept barren for the next 30 years by regular applications of herbicides. As the unfortunate ones watch the machines clear their land, they won’t be able to take solace in the knowledge that the assault will be over soon. Instead, a second pipeline is poised to serve them with legal papers and take even more of their land.
When I talk about pipelines I talk about the disgrace of a corporation seizing private property – something that should not happen in a free country. I also talk about apathy or political cowardice shown by most of our elected officials who ignore the reality of pipelines and mindlessly tout “jobs” that won’t materialize or repeat meaningless phrases like “energy independence” which ring so hollow as to be insulting.
When people talk about pipelines they should talk about those who will be harmed. They should calculate the cost of a pipeline not in steel and earth moved but in how much people and community stand to lose and never recover. They should at least try to put a price on people made ill by the anxiety and fear of condemnation or the consequence of feeling helpless and unable to protect their home, investment, quality of life or the safety of their family.
-- Robert Nied
-- Robert Nied