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Juniata Valley Audubon Society is pleased to promote the Bird Habitat Recognition Program. A yard sign a Habitat Discount card are included with your $25 donation to PA Audubon.

Bird Habitat yard sign

Juniata Valley Audubon Society is pleased to promote the Bird Habitat Recognition Program. A yard sign like the one above and a Habitat Discount card are included with your $25 donation to PA Audubon. Be sure to list Juniata Valley Audubon Society as the Audubon Chapter in your area.

  • No property size limits
  • Sign (see above) is included with registration! (9" x 12", Metal)
  • Homes, schools, businesses, parks, and public land can join
  • Help us promote Healthy Yards that are easy on birds, babies and bank accounts
  • Habitat Discount Card will help you save money at businesses across the state

Download the Property Application and mail to Audubon PA - Bird Habitat or complete the form online at

Your Bird Habitat could qualify for a special award! Juniata Valley Audubon Society will award a certificate and $25 to one outstanding Bird Habitat in each of the following counties: Bedford, Blair, Centre, Cambria, and Huntingdon. To apply, contact JVAS VP Laura Jackson at or call 814-652-9268. Remember, enter the Bird Habitat Program first.

Improving the quality of land for wildlife is the single most constructive step we can take to assist wild bird populations.
Stephen Kress, Audubon Biologist

The weather forecast for Tuesday night is calling for snow and bitter cold, so the JVAS Board has decided to cancel the Jan. 16 Members’ Night meeting. While regrettable, this is precisely why we don't schedule a speaker in January — so that we can cancel if we have to. The forecast sounds especially dire for Bedford County late tomorrow afternoon.

We hope to see everyone in February: at the Musser Gap hike on Saturday the 17th, and then at the program meeting in Bellwood on the 20th, when wildlife rehabilitator Robyn Graboski of Centre Wildlife Care will be talking about her work, accompanied by a live peregrine falcon, big brown bat, screech owl, and skunk!

The JVAS Blair County Christmas Bird Count (CBC), centered on Culp, will be held on Saturday, December 16, 2017 with a Tally Dinner (aka “tally rally”) to be held at The Dream Restaurant.

cartoon of Christmas-y birds with stockings

The JVAS Blair County Christmas Bird Count (CBC), centered on Culp, will be held on Saturday, December 16, 2017 with a Tally Dinner (aka “tally rally”) to be held at The Dream Restaurant, starting at 5 P.M. The pay-your-own dinner is open to all, so you can attend even if you can’t help with the CBC. The Dream is located at 1500 Allegheny St., Hollidaysburg, PA.

Please contact Christmas Bird Count Coordinator Laura Jackson no later than Saturday, Dec. 9 to reserve your place at the Tally Dinner. Call 814-652-9268 or email

We hope YOU will be a counter this year! We are always in need of more participants, so check with birder friends and invite them to participate, too. Participation is free. In addition to field surveys, we need feeder watchers. If you live in the count circle (within 7.5 miles of Culp), you are encouraged to record the birds you see on your property or at your feeder.

Counters will be assigned a section of the circle to cover, so if you have a favorite area, be sure to sign up early. Register by calling Laura Jackson. You will receive a map showing which part of the circle to cover, a species checklist, and pointers on any bird hot spots that might be in your part of the circle. We will assign the count areas in early December, so if you have a favorite area that you want to cover, contact Laura before December 10.

Also, we hope you will attend the Sunday, Dec. 3 Pre-CBC Workshop to help us organize the event. We will meet at 2:00 pm in Penn State Altoona's Hawthorn Building. Call Laura if you plan to attend.

There are 3 other Christmas Bird Counts in our area that need participants:
Huntingdon Co. CBC is centered on Donation, PA.
Contact compiler Deb Grove: 814-643-3295 or
Bedford Co. CBC on Saturday, December 30, is centered on Manns Choice, PA.
Contact compilers Mike and Laura Jackson: 814-652-9268 or
Raystown CBC: Contact compiler Greg Grove for more details:

Juniata Valley Audubon Society is proud to help sponsor local screenings of two fascinating and important nature documentaries this fall.

Juniata Valley Audubon Society is proud to help sponsor local screenings of two fascinating and important nature documentaries this fall. Hometown Habitat: Stories of Bringing Nature Home, narrated by renowned entomologist, author and native plants expert Doug Tallamy, will be shown at the Canoe Creek State Park Education Center on Saturday, September 30 at 1:00 PM and at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Altoona on Monday, October 16 at 7:00 PM. Chasing Coral, a Netflix documentary about the planet's disappearing coral reefs that the New York Times called "an emotional race against time," will be shown at the Altoona Area Public Library on Thursday, October 12 at 6:00 PM.

These screenings are in addition to our regular monthly program meetings, and are co-sponsored with other local groups (because screening movies isn't cheap), but we've included them in our programs calendar for easy reference.

Hometown Habitat

Award winning director, Catherine Zimmerman, and film crew traveled across the country to visit Hometown Habitat heroes, who are reversing detrimental impacts on the land and in the water of major U.S. watersheds, one garden at a time. They wound their way through the watersheds of Florida, the prairies of the Mississippi River Basin, the streams and rivers of the Rocky Mountains, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes and Columbia River to share success stories and works-in-progress that celebrate conservation landscaping that re-awakens and redefines our relationship with Nature.

Along with the everyday habitat heroes, Catherine and crew introduce us to ecologists, entomologists and other experts who share the science behind how today’s ‘native-plants-know- best’ enthusiasts, landscape architects and conservation groups are helping 20th century-minded city planners, businesses and developers appreciate the myriad 21st century benefits of low-maintenance, seasonally-dynamic and eco-healthy landscapes.

The stories they traveled to tell touch on all aspects of the benefits of native plants and brings to light a sense of community that makes conservation landscaping possible. These are the stories.

That's from the description on the film's website. It's worth pointing out that JVAS includes many such "habitat heroes" in its own membership, such as past president Stan Kotala, whose yards near Altoona are a showcase for native wildflowers, and current president Laura Jackson and her husband Mike, whose mountainside acreage near Everett serves as a sort of outdoor laboratory for conservation and habitat restoration. Laura sent along some recent photos of their yards to help make the case that switching to native plants doesn't represent any sacrifice in garden quality:

spring native wildflower gardens

Laura says that this shows two flower beds full of spring blooms: blue woodland phlox, white foamflower, golden Alexander, wild geranium, wild ginger, Canada violets, and dwarf crested iris. There's also a patch of dandelions in the far right of the photo. The Jacksons let the dandelions go to seed in hopes of attracting white-crowned sparrows, which migrate through our area in the spring but nest farther north. The trees are white-flowering dogwood, wild black cherry, American redbud, and wild apple. All plants are native except the apple tree and the dandelions.

summer-blooming natives

A summer-blooming native flower bed of mostly purple coneflower, black-eyed Susans, cardinal flower, and Heliopsis (ox-eye, or false sunflower). There is a small bog garden in the middle that contains native pitcher plants, sedges, purple violets, and ladies tresses orchids. In the foreground you can see creeping phlox that bloomed in the spring and a small pool with a water lily in it. All are natives, although the water lily is a cultivar of our native white waterlily. The trees in the background are white-flowering dogwood, white spruce, sweet gum, and black locust. Laura notes that the white spruce is not considered to be native to southern PA, but they had very few evergreens on their property, and it attracts bugs which are eaten by golden-crowned kinglets. The kinglets stay here all winter and only eat insects, even in the coldest of weather, so the white spruce helps to provide food for them.

If all this whets your appetite to learn more, be sure not to miss one of the screenings on September 30th or October 16th, which should spark lively discussions afterwards. The first screening, at Canoe Creek, will be followed by an optional walk to look at non-native and native plants and to discuss their impact on native wildlife.

Chasing Coral

Coral reefs around the world are vanishing at an unprecedented rate. A team of divers, photographers and scientists set out on a thrilling ocean adventure to discover why and to reveal the underwater mystery to the world.

Chasing Coral was directed by Jeff Orlowski and produced by Larissa Rhodes. The film took more than three years to shoot, and is the result of 500+ hours underwater, submissions of footage from volunteers from 30 countries, as well as support from more than 500 people from various locations around the world.

Visit their website to learn more about how you can involved. An essential first step, of course, is to watch the film with us at the Altoona Libary on October 12th. There will be free refreshments and a short discussion after the film for those who can stick around.

Juniata Valley Audubon Society's evening program series resumes at the Bellwood-Antis Library in Bellwood on Tuesday, September 19 with a program by raptor-banders Mark Shields and Randy Flement.
Peregrine falcon in flight
Peregrine falcons nest on rocky cliffs, under bridges, and on city buildings in Pennsylvania. This wild falcon was photographed by Mike Jackson as it returned to its nestlings under a bridge near Lock Haven.

Juniata Valley Audubon Society's evening program series resumes at the Bellwood-Antis Library in Bellwood on Tuesday, September 19 with a free dinner provided at 6:30 pm, and the program beginning at 7:00 pm. Mark Shields and Randy Flement will present "Trapping and Banding Migrant Raptors on Tussey Mountain.” (View the listing on our website, as well as all of our other upcoming programs and field trips for the fall.)

Mark and Randy's talk will cover the history of their banding efforts on Tussey Mountain, the size of the raptor flight, and the species of raptors that they see and capture, including photos of the birds in flight and in-hand. They'll also describe their trapping methods and banding procedures. A special part of the program will be an opportunity to see a live falcon — Mark’s Peregrine Falcon, Thistle.
Mark Shields is a retired USAF officer. He worked as a raptor biologist prior to joining the USAF. He has been a falconer for over 40 years, as well as being a raptor propagator. Since 1983, he has been a raptor bander and has worked under four Master Bird Banders.  Mark continues to stay busy as an artist making reproduction medieval artifacts.

Randy Flament has been a wildlife photographer since 1980. As he says, "I just love being in the woods leaning as much as I can about anything in the wild." Photography allows him to share some of that with other folks, but he prefers to document seldom-seen behavior rather than just take generic portraits of animals. He has been working in the timber business for 40 years.


It was an easy decision for the Board of Juniata Valley Audubon Society to present our 2017 Conservation Award to the Stephen Gerhart family.

by Laura Jackson, President

It was an easy decision for the Board of Juniata Valley Audubon Society to present our 2017 Conservation Award to the Stephen Gerhart family who live a few miles south of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Although the Gerharts are not Audubon members, they embody the environmental ethics that characterize many Audubon members: love of the land; conservation of bird and other wildlife habitats; and the fortitude to stand up to big corporations that destroy forests without the landowner’s permission.

Two women holding an award plaque next to a pond
Elise and Ellen Gerhart represent the Gerhart family, which received the 2017 Conservation Award from Juniata Valley Audubon Society on April 22, 2017. This Award, received on Earth Day is bittersweet, since Sunoco has cut trees on their land for a new gas pipeline that places their home within the 1,000-foot blast radius. (photo: Mike Jackson)

The Gerharts placed their 27-acre forested property in the Forest Stewardship Program about ten years ago, a Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry program that helps landowners develop goals so their forest is sustainable and healthy for people and wildlife. It is a program intended to create a legacy for the Gerharts — or it did until two years ago, when the Gerharts got a knock on their door from a land agent, informing them that Sunoco Logistics planned to construct the Mariner East II pipeline under their property, including under their pond and through the forested wetlands. The Gerharts refused to take the money offered by Sunoco and to this day steadfastly refuse to accept any payment.

When I visited the Gerharts on Earth Day, Ellen showed us how Sunoco - without the Gerharts’ permission - cut trees in the riparian area of the stream and on the steep slopes adjacent to the wetlands. Sunoco claimed the trees were cut because the space was needed for a work area, but it is hard to imagine how workers would be able to use equipment on such a steep slope without extensive earth movement. The DEP file clearly states that, “support sites such as pipe/contractor yards, are to be sited on previously disturbed areas.”

Ellen straddles the small stream that flows above the pond, in an area that used to be forested. Although the stream was designated as a “Waterbody Crossing,” workers cut all the trees right to the edge of the stream, as well as the forested wetlands. (photo: Laura Jackson)

The Gerhart family is just one of hundreds of families in Pennsylvania faced with property destruction and safety concerns caused by Sunoco’s plans to construct about 306 miles of pipeline across Pennsylvania. On February 13, 2017, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) approved the Chapter 105 and 102 pipeline permits for the project officially known as the PA Pipeline Project/Mariner East II. Almost 30,000 comments were sent to the DEP during the public participation process prior to that decision. Many of those comments were from landowners who were concerned about their family’s safety, since many miles of the pipeline will be located very close to schools and homes.

According to the DEP file, the Pipeline Project will transport up to 700,000 barrels per day of natural gas liquids (propane, butane and ethane) from the Utica and Marcellus Shale formations in Ohio and western Pennsylvania for both domestic and international markets using two new pipelines that are mostly found in the existing right of way corridor for the current Mariner East pipeline system. The Project will supply propane at various exit routes across Pennsylvania and terminate in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania where fuels will be exported for international markets. The fact that domestic markets are included allowed Sunoco to obtain eminent domain, so affected families felt hopeless, and accepted the money offered by Sunoco.

What sets the Gerharts apart from many of the affected landowners is their continued resistance — they are still saying “NO.” Using similar tactics seen in western states to protect the redwoods and sequoias, Elise sat in a tree for two weeks in 2016, while nearby trees were cut all around her. Her mother, Ellen, who was not afraid to confront the workers face to face, was arrested and jailed for three days. Elise was criminally charged later. Fortunately, the disorderly conduct and contempt of court charges were eventually dropped against Ellen, Elise, and activist Alex Lotorto.

Elise Gerhart was arrested last year because Sunoco could not cut a tree she was sitting in. Both of these trees were saved because of “tree sitters.” (photo: Mike Jackson)

Sunoco claims the project disturbance will total 273 acres in Huntingdon County, causing extensive forest fragmentation. Although the three acres of disturbance at the Gerhart property doesn’t seem like much, it is symbolic of a greater concern: that of social injustice impacting rural families where the value of land and forests is worth far more than a few development dollars. Sunoco touts the potential for jobs and economic development opportunities, but rural landowners know that the environmental footprint of energy development grows bigger each year: pipelines, electric transmission lines, wind turbine projects, fracking wells, industrial solar projects — all of these energy-related development projects will continue to expand while open space contracts. Cities like Philadelphia plan to benefit from the pipeline project, but it is at the expense of rural forests and families.

Juniata Valley Audubon Society applauds the Gerhart family for trying to protect their property from industrial development.

GOOD NEWS - No development on Hawn's Bridge for now... but the possibility remains that it could be developed when the Master Plan is updated.

UPDATE: Read the Altoona Mirror's coverage: "Corps rejects resort proposal at Raystown Lake"


GOOD NEWS! No development on Hawn's Bridge Peninsula for now... but the possibility remains that it could be developed when the Master Plan is updated. See details below:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District Press Release No. 17-007

For immediate release: April 21, 2017

Contact: Cynthia Mitchell, Baltimore District; 410-962-7522;

Army Corps issues decision addressing recreational development proposal on Raystown Lake Project

RAYSTOWN LAKE, Pennsylvania - After a rigorous review process in accordance with federal policy and regulations, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), Baltimore District, has determined they cannot further consider authorization of Lancer Resources, L.P. (Lancer) recreational development's proposal in the Hawn's Bridge area of the Raystown Lake Project because it is not consistent with the current Raystown Lake Master Plan (MP).

The current MP for Raystown Lake dates back to 1994 and placed an emphasis on protecting the southeast shore, which includes the Hawn's Bridge area. Existing Corps policy reflects that the effective lifespan of a MP is 15- 25 years. Additionally, legislation contained in the recent Water Infrastructure Improvement of the Nation Act (WIIN), Section 1309, signed into law December 2016, requires the MP for the Raystown Lake be updated.

Col. Ed Chamberlayne, commander, Baltimore District, stated that re-entering the MP process would allow the Corps to address any proposed development. "We will immediately seek funding, personnel, and other resources to begin the master plan update," said Chamberlayne. "The update will include public input at appropriate times and preparation of corresponding National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documentation."

Once funds are made available, the process to complete updates to the MP could take between 18-24 months.

JVAS will be sure to assist in providing input as the plan revision process proceeds.

We planned to spend three weeks this past January in Honduras on a research expedition to two locations in the remote eastern portion of the country. Our goals were to work with local conservation pioneers and preserves to survey and promote the wide diversity of bird life in these special yet threatened regions.

Note: Ian Gardner was inspired to organize the CACAO 2017 Expedition after participating in our Birding for Conservation trip to Honduras in February, 2016. This initiative is the first research project under the auspices of the newest JVAS Committee: Partners in Neotropical Bird Conservation. Contact Laura Jackson if you would like to get involved in conservation and education projects focusing on migratory birds.

Cacao is the Honduran colloquial name for the threatened Red-throated Caracara, a species of raptor that has nearly disappeared from Central America in the past few decades. It is also the acronym for a small but passionate cooperative of multi-national conservationists. We planned to spend three weeks this past January in Honduras on a research expedition to two locations in the remote eastern portion of the country, Reserva Biologica Rus Rus in Gracias a Dios and Parque Nacional Botaderos in Olancho. Our goals were to work with local conservation pioneers and preserves to survey and promote the wide diversity of bird life in these special yet threatened regions. We were able to meet our funding goal for the trip thanks to the support of many individuals and several Audubon Society chapters like JVAS.

We knew beforehand that these federal lands, Reserva Biologica Rus Rus and Parque Nacional Botaderos, were protected by title alone. During our expedition we learned why. Both areas are remote, at least a very rough 4 hour drive from the closest ICF facility (Instituto de Conservacion Forestal). But they also host an incredible diversity of flora and fauna, particularly birds.

A reddish-orange and brown bird perched on a barbed-wire fence.
The male Vermilion Flycatcher is brightly colored and often perches in conspicuous places as it scans for insect prey. Habitat destruction is the greatest threat to this colorful species.

We recorded over 280 bird species in the dimorphic landscape of Rus Rus. This area is comprised of two distinct ecosystems: expansive pine savanna and dense gallery* forest. Each contains a unique suite of species that is constantly evolving, so researchers are recording more species with each visit. Our expedition recorded range expansions for over 20 species and found such notables as Harpy Eagle, Crane Hawk, Jabiru, Black Rail, Green Ibis, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Scaled Pigeon, Northern Potoo, Yellow Tyrannulet, Aplomado Falcon, and Snowy Cotinga.

In Olancho, we surveyed miles of mountain trails in the central highlands and recorded over 200 species. Our top target was the pine forest denizen Red-throated Caracara, which we missed, but we were told of many recent encounters. We did see several other target birds such as Ocellated Quail, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Golden-winged Warbler, Golden-cheeked Warbler, and Red Crossbill. We also surveyed the lowland portion of Isidro Zuniga’s Las Orquideas Nature Preserve, where we documented a Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, a hummingbird with an isolated population that can only be found in this small region of Honduras.

Protected forests in eastern Honduras also face serious threats from natural resource extraction companies and cattle ranchers. Mining and Hydropower projects destroy hundreds of hectares and divert miles of rivers in Olancho. Cattle ranchers are recent migrants to the Rus Rus region and are illegally grabbing land to clearcut for cattle pastures. However, a determined community of environmentalists is standing up. These activists are literally risking life and limb to protect the forests, as you read in last year’s article about the late Berta Caceres. Fortunately we never faced any threats during this expedition and were able to talk with local communities and learn about these pressing conservation issues from their perspectives.

* Gallery forests are forests that form as corridors along rivers or wetlands and project into landscapes that have fewer trees, such as grasslands or deserts.

There is currently a proposal for the construction and operation of a 501 ft. by 81 ft. CAFO barn to hold and grow 4,800 pigs from feeder to market size in Catherine Township, Blair County. This will be located on Hemlock Lane just off Rt. 22 about four miles north of Williamsburg, and will be the first of its kind in Blair County.

A drive through nearly any part of rural Pennsylvania makes clear why agriculture is touted as the number one industry in the state. Thousands of farms large and small cover the landscape, and many have been run by the same families for generations. As it becomes increasingly difficult to make a living on a small family farm, a new concept in farming has emerged in recent decades. Now well-entrenched in southeastern PA and many neighboring states, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) have become a common sight (and smell) for anyone passing through those areas. Basically, a CAFO is defined as a highly-mechanized feeding operation designed to raise the maximum number of animals as quickly as possible at the lowest cost. A farming operation is designated as a CAFO based on the type and number of animals involved. For instance, a large CAFO for poultry is anything over 125,000 chickens, while for hogs it is anything over 2,500 pigs. The concept is spreading rapidly.

There is currently a proposal for the construction and operation of a 501 ft. by 81 ft. CAFO barn to hold and grow 4,800 pigs from feeder to market size in Catherine Township, Blair County. This will be located on Hemlock Lane just off Rt. 22 about four miles north of Williamsburg, and will be the first of its kind in Blair County.

View of fields and woods with a wooded ridge in the background.
This is the site for the proposed CAFO in Blair County, along Rt. 22 in Catharine Township.

While the decision to build a CAFO may pose a financial risk to the owners, it will result in long-term health, financial and life quality impacts to hundreds of their neighbors. Those of us who grew up or live in farming areas are accustomed to the smells of farming activity, especially the spreading of cow manure on fields and the odor from barns. It is part of country life. The odor from pig manure is notoriously worse than that from cows, however, and the proposed facility will generate at least 1.4 million gallons of manure annually to be stored onsite and spread twice a year on about 300 acres of farm fields scattered near the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River from Canoe Creek State Park nearly to Water Street. Dead animals will be composted on site above ground on a concrete slab. Huge fans will operate 24/7 to vent the barn and the manure storage chamber beneath it. The odor from a CAFO for 4,800 pigs (dead and alive) will be like nothing we could imagine from traditional farming practices.

The adverse impacts on property use, recreational activities, water quality and human health will be significant, but is understated or dismissed in a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) prepared by the US Department of Agriculture Farm Services Agency in 2016. Access to the studies and plans cited in the EA was restricted. Concerns about the potential negative effects of the proposal have led a group of local citizens to form the Canoe Valley Conservation Coalition (CVCC), with the initial goal of obtaining a thorough and transparent assessment of the significant environmental impacts that may occur during the construction and operation of this project. CVCC, with assistance from the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project (SRAP), is also looking at legal action to stop or delay the project.

A great deal of information on CAFOs is available online from reputable sources, including universities and a publication by the National Association of Local Boards of Health. A Google search of the subject will reveal hundreds of references on impacts to human health and the environment. The SRAP website at is a good starting place if you want to learn more.

If you are concerned about the CAFO to Blair County, contact me, Bruce Rodgers, at

If you are concerned about the four CAFOs proposed for Bedford County, contact Laura Jackson at


Mariner East 2 and 3 would be a set of two 24-inch pipelines which would begin in Scio, Ohio and end at the Marcus Hook refinery near Philadelphia. These pipelines would cross 350 miles, and 17 counties, in Pennsylvania, and carry approximately 770,000 barrels of natural gas liquids daily across Pennsylvania.

According to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:

§ 27. Natural resources and the public estate.
The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people. (May 18, 1971, P.L.769, J.R.3)

Unfortunately, this right of the people is under assault from both fracking and pipeline construction. The project with which my family and I have the most experience is the Mariner East 2 and 3 Pipeline Projects, aka the Pennsylvania Pipeline Project. Sunoco Logistics (SL), the owner/operator of both the existing Mariner East 1 and the proposed Mariner East 2 and 3, is a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, based out of Dallas, TX. Mariner East 2 and 3 would be a set of two 24-inch pipelines which would begin in Scio, Ohio and end at the Marcus Hook refinery near Philadelphia. These pipelines would cross 350 miles, and 17 counties, in Pennsylvania, and carry approximately 770,000 barrels of natural gas liquids daily across Pennsylvania.

The product that would be carried by ME2/3 is a highly pressurized combination of propane, ethane, and butane. These odorless, colorless, and highly volatile gases are compressed into liquid form for transportation. Should there be a break or a leak in the pipeline, these NGLs would convert back to their gaseous states. These gases are heavier than the air, meaning that they would not just disperse into the atmosphere, but would flow to the lowest point. The high volatility and size of the pipes have the potential to create a blast radius of 3 miles.

So, this is the pipeline and company that my family has been fighting in Huntingdon County since February of 2015. After thirty years of teaching special education students, I was looking forward to spending time with my family, gardening, sewing, reading, etc., all the things that I love and now would have more time to enjoy. Sadly, that would not be the case. Two years ago, in February of 2015, we were notified that Sunoco Logistics would be putting part of the Mariner East 2/3 through approximately 3 acres of our property. Unfortunately, these three acres include our pond, streams, wetlands, and a steep, forested slope next to the pond. We turned down their offer and refused to sign an easement agreement.

In August 2015, we were notified that Sunoco Logistics had filed for eminent domain in the Huntingdon County Court. Sunoco Logistics argued that, by virtue of a public convenience certificate issued in the 1930s for the Mariner East 1, they had already been granted public utility status. This was despite the fact that the ME1 was originally designed to carry petroleum products from east to west, and now both the ME1 and the ME2 would be carrying natural gas liquids (NGL) west to east---a totally different product transported in a totally different direction. Sunoco Logistics also argued that this pipeline project would provide both a public benefit and numerous jobs for Pennsylvania citizens.

In January 2016, Huntingdon County judge George Zanic granted Sunoco Logistics’ request for eminent domain. This ruling was immediately appealed and is currently in Commonwealth Court. Despite the fact that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection had not yet issued water crossing and soil erosion management permits, the favorable eminent domain ruling gave SL permission to survey and ultimately clear-cut on our property, although they could not begin any construction until DEP issued water-crossing and soil erosion permits.

In March 2016, Sunoco Logistics requested, and was granted, an injunction prohibiting us from interfering with SL’s surveying and clear-cutting. The company claimed that they would “suffer irreparable harm” if they could not clear-cut by March 31. They cited the Migratory Bird Act and the brown bat nesting season as reasons why they could not clear-cut after that date. On March 29, Sunoco Logistics, accompanied by the Huntingdon County sheriff’s department, began clear-cutting trees around the pond, wetlands, streams, and hillside. A group of about 12 observers were there to document the cutting. There were also 3 people who had established themselves in “tree-sits”. At one point, sheriff’s deputies arrested two of the observers and charged them with “summary disorderly conduct, misdemeanor disorderly conduct, and indirect contempt of court.” During their arraignment on these minor charges, they had their bails set at $200,00 and $100,000. The next day, while trying to draw the deputies’ attention to the fact that the tree clearers were cutting too close to one of the sitter’s trees, I was arrested on the same charges. I was released on $5,000 bail. The tree cutting crew left at mid-day on the 30th and did not return.

A woman standing on a stump in the middle of a clearcut.
Elise Gerhart, Ellen’s daughter, surveying the trees that Sunoco cut in March, 2016, without their permission.

In April 2016, the Sunoco tree crew returned to finish clear-cutting, even though it was more than a week after the date cited in their injunction. I was again arrested. This time I spent 3 days in the Centre County Correctional Facility because Huntingdon County has no accommodations for female prisoners. I was held on “suicide watch” because I refused to answer intake questions. I was denied phone calls to either my family or my lawyer. I was finally released on $5000 bail.

From April 2016 to December 2016, those of us who refused to take the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition plea (primarily used for those facing DUI or drug charges) had to appear in Huntingdon County court for various hearings. Finally a trial date was set for December 9, 2016. Three days prior to trial, DA Smith announced that all charges would be dropped, because the “disorderly conduct” occurred on private property and they couldn’t prosecute.

What has been the most frustrating part of all of this is the failure of various agencies, in particular, DEP, to actually protect the environment. From the beginning of this ordeal, we asked DEP, DCNR, Fish and Wildlife, the Army Corps of Engineers, and Governor Wolf to uphold the environmental protection guaranteed in the Pennsylvania Constitution.

In its three permit application attempts to DEP, Sunoco failed to rectify numerous deficiencies on just our 3 acres, let alone the rest of the 350 miles of proposed pipeline. We hired an independent environmental consultant who found that Sunoco had listed only half of the streams and one-seventh of the wetlands area that would be impacted by the installation of the pipeline. Sunoco mislabeled our forested wetlands as emergent wetlands. They also failed to do an onsite analysis of soil composition, an onsite inventory of flora (including tree species), or an onsite inventory of fauna on their first two permit application attempts, and still mislabeled species. No one from DEP came to verify Sunoco’s analyses for the permits until after the initial tree-clearing had taken place, despite several requests from us.

Sunoco continues to file permit applications that contain unresolved deficiency issues. It is currently on its third attempt to have DEP grant the permits which would allow construction to begin. Unlike the previous two applications, it appears that DEP is not going to allow public hearings or public comment on the matter, although the agency has had at least four meetings with Sunoco in the past two months. This is a clear bias in favor of Sunoco Logistics. Once DEP issues permits, Sunoco can begin construction, even though several eminent domain cases, including ours, are still pending in Commonwealth Court.

What can do you? Contact:

Governor Tom Wolf
Phone - 717-787-2500
Fax - 717-772-8284
Twitter - @GovernorTomWolf

Secretary O'Donnell
Phone - 717-783-3004
Email -
Twitter - @SecMcDonnell

Talking points:

  1. We demand a public participation process be established for Sunoco Logistics' resubmitted application for 105 and 102 permits for Mariner East II.
  2. The public is being disenfranchised while Sunoco has advance information about DEP actions.
  3. The process is being manipulated to Sunoco's advantage at the expense of private landowners.
  4. We want a comment period of at least 60 days, hearings scheduled across the state, and an inclement weather plan so the most people can be heard.
  5. The public has a right to review and comment on matters that impact us as adversely as the Mariner East does.
  6. We don't need any more pipelines. Do the right thing. Deny the 105 and 102 permits.

For contact, more info and updates visit the Juniata Watershed People Before Pipelines page on Facebook. For help with our legal battle, visit our page on the Energy Justice website.

UPDATE as of February 21:

We are very disappointed that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is not living up to its name. DEP issued Chapter 102 and 105 permits to Sunoco Logistics for its Mariner East 2 project on Monday, February 13, for water crossings and soil erosion control management. Permits were issued despite inaccuracies and deficiencies. DEP officials met with Sunoco on at least four occasions to review the latest applications, yet refused to set up public hearings or extend the public comment period.

The fight is not over. Clean Air Council, Mountain Watershed Association, and Delaware River Keepers have filed a suit in Commonwealth Court to stop this project. West Goshen Township has denied permission for the pipeline based on violations of municipal codes. Several eminent domain cases, including ours, are still in appeal. The Army Corps of Engineers has not yet issued all necessary approvals for the project.

Unfortunately, Mariner East 2 is not the only pipeline planned for Pennsylvania. The Atlantic Sunrise and the Penn East in the eastern part of the state were also granted permits. Shell Corporation is planning the 93-mile Falcon pipeline in western Pennsylvania to supply its ethane cracker plant now under construction. People are still suffering from drinking water pollution caused by fracking. Government officials need to hear, loud and clear, that the citizens of Pennsylvania oppose this.