Here is the release issued by the Gerhart family and their attorneys.
Grandmother, Retired Teacher Jailed Up to Six Months for Protecting Her Land
Ellen Sue Gerhart, 63, has been a key leader in the multi-year campaign against Energy Transfer Partners’ Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline, which is being built through her property.
[Huntingdon, PA] On Friday, August 3, Huntingdon County Judge George Zanic sentenced 63-year-old grandmother, retired teacher, and landowner Ellen Sue Gerhart to two to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine for indirect criminal contempt of court.
Judge Zanic’s decision was based on accusations from lawyers for Texas-based oil and gas giant Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the developer of the pipeline project through Gerhart’s land. The company alleged that Gerhart had baited a bear onto the pipeline easement on her wooded 27-acre property.
Elise Gerhart, daughter of Ellen, said, “If you build a pipeline through the woods, you should expect to see bears and other wildlife. Judge Zanic gave this $50 billion company the power of eminent domain over my family’s property and our governor gave them the permits. My mom’s protest on her own property is not the injustice here.”
In an interview prior to her arrest, Ellen Gerhart said, “We’ve had no choice but to take a stand and defend what our government officials are unwilling to protect. Our right to peacefully object to an unjust and dangerous pipeline should be protected over the profit margin of these foreign corporations.”
Rich Raiders, attorney for the Gerhart family, said “The eminent domain condemnation case filed by Sunoco against the Gerharts remains ongoing. The Gerharts have also appealed Sunoco’s environmental permits granted by the Department of Environmental Protection concerning the wetlands permits issued to Sunoco on this project. The trial before the Environmental Hearing Board is scheduled for August 29th.
Raiders continued, “Their are still charges of harassment and unlawful taking alleged against Mrs. Gerhart pending. Mrs. Gerhart believes that these charges are a distraction from Sunoco’s ongoing litany of permit suspensions, failed horizontal directional drilling, and various project delays. We believe that the company did not present evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Mrs. Gerhart’s protests were criminal. Mrs. Gerhart disagrees with Judge Zanic’s decision today and is reviewing her options and will pursue her rights to the fullest extent.”
Ellen Gerhart is an outspoken advocate, not only to protect her own land but also to protect the hundreds of waterways impacted across Pennsylvania by ETP’s Mariner East 2 pipeline project. The Gerharts have never given ETP permission to build through their family land.
Since construction began, ETP has reported an astounding 111 spills and has been issued over 65 violations by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. On May 23, ETP spilled 4,000 gallons of drilling fluid on the Gerhart property, threatening the family’s well water.
Ellen and her family’s ongoing opposition to the project has led to significant intimidation and harassment on the part of ETP, their private security contractor TigerSwan, and local authorities. The Gerharts are involved in numerous cases against state agencies and ETP over use of eminent domain, deficient environmental permits, and violations of federal civil rights laws.