It's Finally Come to This': The Fight against a Pennsylvania Pipeline Goes on, despite Setbacks

By Ruddock, Jenna | The Progressive, December 2017 | Go to article overview

It's Finally Come to This': The Fight against a Pennsylvania Pipeline Goes on, despite Setbacks


Ruddock, Jenna, The Progressive


It is an unbearably humid morning for late September. Eva Telesco sits lightly on the end of a picnic table bench, her dark hair pulled back in a loose ponytail. People are wandering around, making lunch, exchanging news. Telesco's six-year-old son, Pike, races in circles around us and through the tables. A door slams. None of this disturbs Telesco's thoughtful focus on our conversation. Being a kindergarten teacher requires certain gifts, including being able to stay calm amid chaos.

Still, she says, nothing prepared her for the pipeline.

"My life is dramatically different," Telesco admits with a laugh. "Three years ago, I had a normal life. I watched TV at night."

In early 2014, word began to spread that an Oklahoma-based energy company, Williams Partners, was planning a monumental natural gas pipeline project that would cut through farming communities across central and southeast Pennsylvania. The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline would connect two existing Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company lines, also operated by Williams, in the northeast and southeast corners of the state. Hundreds of property owners along a nearly 200-mile long stretch were about to learn that their land sat right in the pipelines path.

Three years later, fences are going up. Trucks sporting out-of-state license plates are hauling heavy machinery along roads not built for the burden. Landowners who refused to settle with Williams and took their cases to court have been forced to settle, one by one.

Opposition has sprung up all along the Atlantic Sunrise route, but nowhere has the resistance been as relentless as in Lancaster County. Like many of her neighbors, Telesco was there at the beginning. She never expected it to get this far.

"We tried to work within the system," Telesco tells me. "We really tried all those avenues that you think, 'Oh, if they know this they wouldn't do it'--but they just don't care."

Soon after the pipeline was announced, local parents, teachers, retirees, and ministers created an opposition group, Lancaster Against Pipelines, to rally the community and collaborate with neighboring towns. They took all the right steps. They dutifully made calls, wrote letters, filed comments with the right agencies, attended town halls, even went to court.

But the pipeline was approved anyway.

An uneasy air of collective anticipation weighs heavily on the small group gathered this Sunday morning. On Friday, Williams had announced its intention to break ground as soon as possible on land owned by an order of Roman Catholic nuns who have worked closely with locals to fight the pipeline. After three long years, Lancaster residents are facing a terrible truth: The pipeline is on its way.

"It's hard to know how to feel about all of it, now that it's finally come to this," Telesco says. "It's really overwhelming."

She glances at the other tables; everyone around us now munching on chips and sandwiches has spent the morning rehearsing techniques for forming a human barricade. Like Eva, few have any experience as activists. Nervous laughter broke out at regular intervals as neighbors linked arms and practiced shielding one another from anyone who might try to separate them, role-playing interactions with police and construction crews. The gravity of the situation is never far from anyone's mind.

Becky Lattanzio looks on quietly. A lifelong Lancaster resident who grew up on her family's farm and stayed to raise her own kids, Lattanzio doesn't see herself or any of her neighbors as radicals. The farmland here, she explains, is some of the best in the country, and those who call Lancaster County home have been "shut out" of a decision that could put their land at risk.

"If you drive through some of the areas in northern and western Pennsylvania," Telesco adds, "there are areas that have just been ruined by this."

The current fracking boom along the Marcellus Shale, an immense geological formation stretching from north of the Canadian border as far south as Tennessee, is just the latest chapter in Pennsylvania's long and fraught history with fossil fuels. …

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