Columbia County Residents Voice Concerns at Town Hall Meeting

Last Friday night, August 15th, over 75 Columbia County residents came together for a town hall meeting at the Bloomsburg Fire Hall. Together we discussed the proposed Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline project, which would bisect the western side of Columbia County and affect over 300 landowners along the Right-of-Way. The night started out with a slideshow showing the stark landscape that comes with installing a 42” pipeline. Lynda Farrell from the Pipeline Safety Coalition shared both her personal and organizational experience with the crowd. She discussed the 42” pipeline which Williams Partners is currently installing on her property in Chester County, and the work that she has done supporting other landowners facing similar situations. Lynda also offered advice to landowners on the question of eminent domain. The pipeline on her land was forced through via eminent domain. She also works very closely with Carolyn Elefant, who has authored a guide for landowners on the subject of pipelines and eminent domain.

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Tim Speise then shared some similar experiences. He is affected by the Atlantic Sunrise project on both ends of the line, residing in Lancaster, but also owning a home in Clinton County, where the proposed Grugan Loop would expand capacity for the Transco Pipeline, which would be the second pipeline going through his property. He gave a rousing report of the community organizing that has been happening all over Lancaster County in opposition to the pipeline. Lancaster residents have already forced Williams to alter the pipeline route to avoid valued forest and farm preserves. Unfortunately, Tim reported, the new route crosses a number of family farms and orchards. He underscored the point that simply moving the pipeline puts the burden on others, whereas stopping the pipeline as a whole would prevent burden from falling on anyone.  Tim’s speech did a lot to agitate attendees against the pipeline and to inform them of the need to work together as a community.

Sam Koplinka-Loehr of the Clean Air Council ended the first section of our town hall meeting with a report of community education and resistance along the entire route of the pipeline. From Susquehanna County all the way down to Lancaster we heard stories of communities coming together to make decisions about how to address this major proposal from Williams Partners.  Sam hoped that giving Columbia County residents some perspective of the bigger picture and sharing the stories of struggle would act as a sparkplug for developing stronger community relationships. Building a network of people working together to address environmental and public health risks such as those presented by Williams could be an important step forward in protecting the interests of Columbia County residents as a whole.

The second half of the evening was devoted to hearing the voices of local residents. After the Williams Partners open house meeting and the FERC Environmental Impact Statement scoping hearing, many residents expressed frustration at the way those meetings were conducted. Many felt that both events lacked ways for residents to get their questions thoroughly answered or their concerns heard. With that in mind, the SOC Central/NE PA Committee organized this town hall meeting to allow as much time as necessary for residents to ask questions and share concerns with our panelists. The Bloomsburg Fire Hall was busy with discussion until almost 10:00 PM! We heard questions about insurance rates, property values, environmental concerns, nearby coal mine fires, eminent domain, compensation and more. We hope that everyone left feeling better informed than when they arrived.

For those of you that were not able to make it out: all the written information we provided is available on the “Atlantic Sunrise” tab on our website. If you have specific questions for SOC or any of the speakers we brought to the town hall meeting please contact us at info@shalefieldorganizing.org and we will do our best to get you an answer. Please also contact us with ideas for future events. We would love to have your input as we plan for more community gatherings. Stay tuned for more information!

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