Photo: Angela Vogel
By Susan Phillips, State Impact Pennsylvania, July 3, 2020
A Northeastern Pennsylvania family who watched as work crews, accompanied by armed federal marshals, destroyed their budding maple tree farm to make way for the failed Constitution Pipeline has settled with the company Williams for an undisclosed amount. A federal court has also vacated the eminent domain taking of about five acres, reversing an order it made more than five years ago.
“We’re really glad that it’s ended,” said Catherine Holleran, co-owner of the 23-acre property that has been in the family for 50 years. “We’ve gotten our land returned to us. That was our main objective right from the first.”
The Constitution Pipeline project would have carried Marcellus Shale gas from Pennsylvania to New York state. Though the project received federal approval and the necessary permits from Pennsylvania regulators, New York blocked the pipeline by not issuing permits. Williams dropped the project in February.
The Holleran family of New Milford fought a lengthy battle to prevent the company from building the pipeline across their property. But in March 2016, the crews arrived at the 23-acre farm in rural Susquehanna County along with the federal marshalls, who wore bullet proof vests and carried semi-automatic weapons. The crew spent several days clearing about 558 trees, including some that were hundreds of years old.
In a 2018 statement filed with the court, Holleran described how the company left the trees lying on the ground, and did not remove them for a full year after the clear cut. The stumps were left in the ground.
Holleran described the stress weathered by her and her family.
“The entire ordeal has had an enormous emotional toll,” Holleran wrote. “The court proceedings followed by the armed guards on the property created immeasurable stress. …After the trees came down, I experienced a terrible period of despair.”
The Hollerans’ attorney Carolyn Elefant said the Hollerans are happy to have regained ownership of the farm.
“My clients are relieved to move on from the stress and uncertainty of the past few years,” Elefant said. “It was heartbreaking for the family to watch their trees come down, but with full ownership of the property restored and compensation paid, they can reclaim their land and replant their trees.”
Elefant said the family wants to continue to build upon their maple syrup business.
Holleran said she and her family want to work to change the Natural Gas Act, which governs how pipeline companies can seize private property through eminent domain. She said it’s difficult for individual landowners to take on large corporations, especially since the process is so legalistic and technical.
“That can create a lot of hardship for families,” she said. “You have to have a lot of money, and you have to have resources to even go that route, which is why a lot of people don’t.”
Williams could not be reached for comment.