HARFORD, Pa. – The output of maple syrup is down this year at Cathy and Tom Holleran’s Susquehanna County farm, and not just because the weird winter weather has disrupted the seasonal flow of sap.
Last year Spectra Energy, a natural-gas pipeline developer obtained an easement across land owned by Cathy Holleran’s family, over their objections. While U.S. marshals kept protesters at bay, work crews cleared a 100-foot-wide swath for the Constitution Pipeline through their land, wiping out about three acres of trees, many of them productive maples.
Then something unexpected happened: New York regulators denied permits for the 124-mile project and stopped it dead in its tracks. Now, a year later, the pipeline connecting Pennsylvania’s gas fields with New York state is still not built. On the Hollerans’ land, a path of rotting timber lies untouched beneath the snow, as if a storm passed through.
“It’s kind of tragic and pointless,” said the Hollerans’ daughter, Megan, an archaeologist who was transformed into an activist and became the family spokeswoman.
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Though the Constitution Pipeline was able to secure permits in Pennsylvania, where state policy has been more accommodating to the gas industry, it ran into stiff opposition in Albany, where fossil-fuel producers have less clout and anti-fracking interests have Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ear.
Permits that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation denied would have allowed the pipeline to cross more than 250 streams and about 80 acres of wetlands. The pipeline company said New York state used its “narrowly circumscribed jurisdiction to, in effect, veto a federally approved interstate pipeline project.”
In its defense, New York state said the record supports its “detailed, substantive and well-reasoned” permit denials. “Constitution’s vague insinuations of political influence are insufficient to render the decision arbitrary and capricious,” state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in court filings.
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The jurisdictional battle centers on interpretations of the Natural Gas Act, which designates FERC as the lead agency for coordinating federal authorizations for large interstate energy projects.
In 2014, FERC determined that the Constitution Pipeline’s benefits outweighed any adverse effects, including those on landowners and surrounding communities. It also found that the project would cause some adverse environmental impacts, but that the impacts would be reduced to “less-than-significant levels” with some mandated design modifications, including horizontal drilling beneath some streams to reduce disruptions to waterways.
FERC’s issuance of a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” gave Constitution Pipeline the legal authority to go to court to take easements by eminent domain from landowners who had declined to sign right-of-way agreements. It filed more than 120 condemnation proceedings in New York and 19 in Pennsylvania, including one against the Hollerans.
“We said no to a pipeline,” Megan Holleran said. “We assumed that meant something, and very quickly learned that it doesn’t.”
FERC’s approval was conditioned upon compliance with other federal laws, including the Clean Water Act, which requires projects to obtain permits to reduce the impact on streams and wetlands. In Pennsylvania and New York, the state environmental agencies are authorized to enforce the Clean Water Act through the approval of what are called Section 401 permits.
In Pennsylvania, which is the nation’s second-largest natural-gas producer because of the shale boom, the Department of Environmental Protection in 2015 granted the permits Constitution Pipeline needed.
But the pipeline company, represented by the law firm Saul Ewing, said the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation impermissibly dragged out its permit decision. In 2015, it said, the agency indicated that the company’s application was complete and “then ceased any meaningful communications with Constitution.”
A key part of Constitution’s claim that the decision was politically motivated cites a conversation said to have taken place in August 2015 between its contractor and a New York environmental official, Christopher Hogan, who indicated that “although NYSDEC was ready to issue the permits, the governor’s office was not.”
New York issued its denial eight months later, on April 22, 2016 – Earth Day. It dismissed the significance of the “hearsay” conversation with the state environmental official, saying he was not the decision-maker “authorized to reach a position and bind the agency.”
The pipeline company argues that New York state undermined its challenge about the pipeline’s design and route because it failed to seek a rehearing of the 2014 decision by FERC, which approved the pipeline plans.
In a separate federal court action filed in Albany, Constitution also unsuccessfully sought to forestall any efforts by the state to delay the pipeline through other regulatory actions. A federal judge dismissed that suit this month because it was premature – the pipeline company had not yet suffered any injury.
The Hollerans, who say their North Harford Maple operation suffered a palpable injury last year, said they had not yet received any compensation from the pipeline company, which rushed to clear their land before the annual March 31 timber-cutting ban went into effect to protect migratory birds and threatened bats.
The trees on some other properties are still standing, said Cathy Holleran, 60. “I swear they got us for spite.”
The Hollerans fired their lawyer and say they can’t find an appraiser who is not beholden to the gas industry to assess their property’s reduced value because of the pipeline.
“We’re still hanging in limbo,” Cathy Holleran said. “Our family was devastated by this.”
Albany Rally to Halt the Constitution Pipeline – April 5, 2016
Hundreds Rally Asking Gov. Cuomo to Deny the Constitution Pipeline
Not just for syrup lovers . . .
Maple trees are part of our heritage – why are we allowing their destruction?
March 2, 2016
Dear Governor Cuomo,
Long before settlers from Europe came to North America, the Woodland Indians of the Northeast were making syrup from the sap of maple trees. Today, that tradition of tapping maples is one that you have said makes our Empire State “an agricultural leader, with some of the most dedicated entrepreneurs and finest products around”.
This agricultural practice is imperiled, in the short term by pipeline construction and in the long term by global warming.
We are already seeing what that short-term impact looks like. The maple trees of Pennsylvania producers in the Constitution Pipeline right of way are being cut down for the transport of fracked gas across our state, much of it destined for export in Canada. The 125-mile permanent right of way created by the proposed pipeline route—19 miles of which have already been cleared—would remove 700,000 trees from pristine forests, many of them maples, taking that land out of production permanently.
In the long term, the whole process of extraction, transportation, and burning of the fracked gas—known to have a worse greenhouse-gas footprint than coal—carried by the Constitution Pipeline will only hasten climate change and further impact maple syrup production in ways we cannot yet fully foresee.
“Tapped for syrup for centuries and famous for its fall foliage, the sugar maple is stressed to the point of decline and many scientists studying this beloved tree believe rising temperatures are the cause,” writes Sarah Brown for National Geographic’s The Plate. “Just fifty years ago a sugar maple’s sap was four percent sugar, now it’s two,” says Barry Rock, a leading forest scientist and Professor of Natural Resources at the University of New Hampshire who has studied sugar maples for over 25 years. Rock says there is a “direct correlation” between sweetness reduction and temperature rise since 1970. 
In short, for this agricultural industry to continue to thrive, we need healthy and mature stands of maples. Those maples need cold winters if we wish to sustainably harvest their sap. The continued build-out of destructive fossil-fuel infrastructure eliminates productive forestland and, by enabling the continued use of those fuels that hasten climate change, negatively impacts both sap production and quality.
As NYS maple producers, large and small, we call on you to acknowledge this threat to our livelihoods and to ensure the protection of this great agricultural tradition. We entreat you oppose the construction of the Constitution Pipeline.
With its abundant natural resources, New York State is poised to become a national model of progressive and sustainable agriculture. We can’t do it without your strong leadership.
Protect our forests, our water, and our livelihoods. New York State’s future depends on it.
Deny Constitution Pipeline a 401 Water Quality Certificate.
Sapsquatch Pure Maple Syrup
Meadow Brook Maple
Coby Schultz and Lindsay Clark
Natural Borders Farm
The Day They Cut the Trees . . .
Day 21, Still no trees cut and there’s still syrup to be made! We also had a win in court, where the judge dismissed the charges of contempt against my family. He also made it very clear what we can and cannot legally do in the future.
Our right to protest has not been challenged or denied outside the restrictions of his order. In light of this, we welcome the continued presence of people on the property to peacefully display our opposition and monitor the actions of Williams and the Constitution pipeline, from outside a safe distance (150ft) to the tree cutting, in compliance with today’s order.
The support we’ve had in this has been incredible and we hope it can continue! This issue is so much bigger than just our property, and we hope the benefit of our situation will be bringing people together for a united purpose.
Hollerans Not Convicted!
(but still a sad day for small businesses)
SCRANTON — A company was given the approval by a federal judge to cut down dozens of maple trees in Susquehanna County so a new gas pipeline could be built.
But several families have protested because they are trying to protect the trees and their maple syrup business.
The standoff led to a showdown Friday in federal court.
Natural gas company Williams is trying to put in a pipeline through Susquehanna County to link natural gas to New York and New England customers.
A judge gave permission to U.S. Marshals and state police to now arrest anyone who stops workers from cutting down trees on the Holleran’s property.
Walking out of the federal courthouse in Scranton, members of the Holleran family of Susquehanna County were relieved that the judge decided not to charge them with contempt after protesters blocked workers from cutting down trees on the family’s property.
“The judge agreed we haven’t done anything wrong yet. I appreciate him on that and agree with his decision there. I think he just clarified what the order means so we don’t violate it in the future,” said Megan Holleran.
The judge granted the U.S. Marshals, along with state police permission to arrest anyone caught stopping workers from cutting down trees. That means no one anywhere near trees being cut, up to150 feet away.
The Holleran family spent the last few weeks waiting as the family, friends, and environmentalists stood guard on the property protecting those maple trees for the family’s syrup operations.
They even turned around workers who showed up last week to cut down the trees to make way for the natural gas pipeline through the Holleran’s property.
“In light of this, I don’t want to do anything that will cause any harm to my family.”
A federal judge previously gave Williams eminent domain to use the land for the pipeline.
For full article and video, click below:
Pennsylvania family fails in court to save
sugar maples from pipeline
A federal judge ruled on Friday that a Pennsylvania family that runs a maple syrup business cannot stop most of their trees from being cut down to make way for a shale gas pipeline, but he stopped short of charging them with contempt of court.
Judge Malachy Mannion of the U.S. District Court in Scranton said his previous order allowing the tree-cutting could not be challenged in court.
But he said lawyers for the company building the Continental Pipeline failed to prove the five defendants who own the property were guilty of obstructing the tree cutting.
“But I’m going to direct that U.S. Marshals are empowered to arrest or detain anyone who obstructs the felling of trees,” he said. “Then they will be brought before me for a contempt hearing.”
Monty Morgan, a former Ohio state trooper who is regional security director for Constitution Pipeline Co, was unable to identify any of the defendants as those who have blocked workers from cutting the maples this month.
The $875 million Continental Pipeline, due to be operational this autumn, would run 124 miles (200 km) from Montrose, Pennsylvania, to Albany, New York. It would bring gas from fracking wells to the New York and New England markets.
“I think this is the most realistic outcome we could have expected,” said Megan Holleran, spokeswoman for North Harford Maple, a family-run syrup business in New Milford. “We never intended to disobey the judge’s order.”
She said peaceful protests would continue and became emotional about the impending loss of the maple trees. But she said family members will stay outside an exclusion zone set by the judge, and would not encourage others to stop the cutting.
Her mother, Catherine Holleran, is one of the defendants. Three others — Michael W. Zeffer, Maryann Zeffer, and Patricia Glover — are aunts or uncles. Dustin Webster, the fifth defendant, is a cousin. The family has owned the land since moving from Long Island in the early 1950s.
The 120-foot (37-m) wide pipeline right-of-way would force the felling of up to 200 maples, or about 80 percent of the family’s sugaring trees.
The company and the family have made no agreement regarding compensation for the land, which was transferred by an “eminent domain” court order declaring the pipeline in the public interest.
Michael Archie, a spokesman for Williams Companies Inc, which along with Cabot Oil & Gas Corp and several other partners will own the pipeline, said tree cutting could start as soon as the coming week.
Pipeline Company Seeks Court Order to Remove Tree Protesters
TERRIE MORGAN-BESECKER, STAFF WRITER
Published: February 15, 2016
A pipeline company blocked from cutting down maple trees at a Susquehanna County family business seeks a court order to allow state police to remove protesters preventing it from clearing the land.
Catherine Holleran and three other property owners should be held in contempt of court for violating a court order that granted the company permission to fell trees on their New Milford Twp. property, argues Elizabeth Witmer, attorney for Constitution Pipeline Company.
Loggers for Constitution arrived at the property Wednesday, but were turned away by about 30 protesters, including Megan Holleran, daughter of Catherine Holleran. State police were called, but troopers advised the company they could not remove the protesters without a court order, Ms. Witmer says in an emergency motion filed Friday in federal court.
Constitution has been battling the Holleran family and other property owners, Patricia Glover, Dustin Webster and Michael and Maryann Zeffer, regarding the acquisition of property needed to construct a 124-mile natural gas pipeline that will transport natural gas from Susquehanna County to New York and New England.
Constitution offered the property owners more than $3,000, which it says exceeds the appraised value of the land, according to court documents. The owners rejected the offer, arguing the appraisal was not properly done.
That led Constitution to seek to take the property through eminent domain. Judge Malachy Mannion ruled in favor of Constitution on March 17, 2015. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, granted the firm permission last month to fell the trees.
Despite Judge Mannion’s and FERC’s orders, the Hollerans and other protesters have occupied the property, preventing Constitution from cutting the trees by standing in the fall zone, creating a safety risk, Ms. Witmer says in the motion. The protesters interference threatens the pipeline project as the FERC order requires the trees be cut by March 31 so not to affect migratory birds.
In an interview last week, Megan Holleran said she and the other property owners are appealing the eminent domain decision in federal court and don’t believe Constitution should begin to cut trees until the case is decided.
Ms. Witmer’s motion says a motion for stay filed by the property owners was denied by FERC on Wednesday, however, which means the company can now proceed with felling the trees.
Attempts to reach Michael Faherty,attorney for the property owners, and Megan and Catherine Holleran were unsuccessful Monday.
Ms. Witmer stressed Constitution is not seeking to bar the property owners from continuing their protest, so long as they do so peacefully and do not interfere with the loggers or otherwise pose a safety threat.
The property owners will have an opportunity to respond to the motion. Ms. Witmer requested Judge Mannion rule on the matter as soon as possible given the deadline the company faces to fell the trees.
FERC HAS GIVEN THE CONSTITUTION PIPELINE PERMISSION TO CUT TREES IN PENNSYLVANIA AND TREE FELLING BEGAN ON FEBRUARY 5th!
BUT NEW YORK’S ATTORNEY GENERAL HAS THE POWER TO STOP IT!
FERC has illegally granted Constitution permission to cut down a hundred thousand trees in Pennsylvania. In an objection filed with FERC on January 14th, NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman took a stand, stating that if FERC allowed this to happen, the agency would be breaking the law by letting construction begin without ALL required certificates and permits. Please call and email Attorney General Schneiderman TODAY
See information for your calls and emails here:
Commentary: New York must reject pipeline
New York is at a crossroads. One path chains us to fossil fuels and climate catastrophe. The other takes us to a brighter future powered by renewables.
In his State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised to tackle climate change by requiring that half of our electricity come from renewables by 2030. If met with power produced here in New York from wind, water and sun, this would establish him as a leader in the energy revolution needed to save our warming planet.
However, that future is now jeopardized by a myriad of projects and proposals that take us backward. Making national headlines is Constitution, the Orwellian name for a pipeline that threatens to permanently rip a hundred-mile gash through the forests, fields and streams of the Southern Tier and northern Catskills.
As a new artery for fracked gas from Pennsylvania, the pipeline would condemn us to greater dependence on fossil fuels for decades. Blocking this assault on New York’s environment requires that Cuomo reject the project’s water quality certificate soon.
Communities victimized by fracked gas in New York have already witnessed how federal rubber stamps and state complacency lead to additional compressor stations, laterals and looping on pipelines like Millennium, AIM and Spectra. So, too, Constitution would blaze a path for the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline following on its heels in the same corridor. Even if NED disappears as a separate project, its components are certain to be added later if Constitution is built.
What’s more, federal filings reveal a contract for the delivery of 230 million cubic feet of gas daily to a new power plant somewhere along the Constitution/NED corridor. Using U.S. Energy Information data, the behemoth facility would pump four and a half million tons of additional carbon dioxide into the air annually, along with hazardous pollutants like benzene, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde. As shown by Cornell University professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea, those climate impacts double when methane leakage associated with the extraction, processing and transport of gas is factored in.
Since the future location of Power Plant X remains an industry secret, communities along the corridor are left to wonder which one of them will be sacrificed to burn more gas in a state that banned fracking. Meanwhile, New Yorkers everywhere are left scratching their heads about how any of this fits into the state’s plan for a renewable energy future.
The plain fact is that it doesn’t.
We already have more than enough dirty power to cover the non-renewable half of New York’s 2030 goal. Approving more gas-fired power plants — new, repowered or repurposed — puts us further in the hole. Likewise, state energy initiatives, including “Reforming the Energy Vision,” the Clean Energy Fund and New York Green Bank are flawed, because they can also facilitate or finance gas projects. In just a decade, electricity production from gas has doubled to about 40 percent of annual generation in New York, while wind and solar remains below 4 percent. Fracked gas does not need financial aid. It needs to be stopped.
The fundamental problem is that while New York has said no to high-volume hydraulic fracking, it has not said no to fracked gas. We are at a crossroads. If Cuomo is serious about moving New York toward a healthy, sustainable future, he will drop gas from the state’s lexicon of “clean energy,” direct state agencies to stop approving power plants that burn fracked gas and reject the Constitution Pipeline. The decision is his and the time to make it is now.
Schue is an electrical engineer who lives in Cherry Valley and is a technical adviser for Otsego 2000, an environmental conservation organization based in Cooperstown.
Some of the places the Constitution Pipeline will devastate . . .
Lot’s of people think this pipeline is a very bad idea!
We should not be Collateral Damage
Watch the Rally – Then Stop the Constitution Pipeline!