Interview by Erin Allegro
Eva M. Telesco is a volunteer leader of Lancaster Against Pipelines working against Atlantic Sunrise Project, a proposed fracked-gas pipeline that would be double the size of most such pipelines — 42 inches in diameter and 1200 to 1500 PSI — leading to possible environmental disaster.
Telesco shared a few stories about her group’s work on the frontlines and how CHEJ has been of help to them with intern Erin Allegro recently.
Q: When did you first notice that the community was at risk due to the Atlantic Sunrise Project?
A: My husband and I didn’t learn about the Atlantic Sunrise Project until the fall of 2014. Other people in our community had known since that spring how dangerous it could be and how close it would be to our homes. When we first heard about it we said to each other “Oh, a pipeline? Aren’t they everywhere? Big deal.” Luckily, other people were more aware of the reality and the risks, and LAP was formed early in 2014 when the project was announced and the first scoping meetings happened.
Q: What did the county do to notify people of the problems with the pipeline that will carry fracking gas through five counties? What solutions or precautions were advised?
A: A lot of this happened before I had been involved, but in the township where I live, residents organized several town meetings. I learned about the pipeline at a community meeting at the fire hall. There were also a few township wide mailers, all funded by private citizens.
Conestoga residents just sent one out to advertise the walk and keep people up to date with the recent route changes and other news. Most of Lancaster Against Pipeline communication has been through the website, as well as Facebook and emails because we don’t have the money to do huge mailings. Our E-newsletter went out to give residents necessary information.
The township didn’t give us any solutions. The supervisors in our towns and all the neighboring towns generally, have been very unsupportive of our side. Even the fire hall meetings and mailings were initiated by private citizens. The township supervisors did not step up at all, and their stance was that they wanted to remain neutral, but in actuality it’s much more like they are siding with industry rather than residents and neighbors.
Q: What were some events experienced by community members?
A: In the spring of 2015, two of the affected townships [Martic and Conestoga], tried to adopt home rule, a form of government that gives townships and individual voters more flexibility and more voice in the governing process, and would have hopefully allowed voters to pass a Rights Based Ordinance against the pipeline. Especially in the township where I live, the vote ended up being close, but we ended up losing in both townships.
That took a lot of time and energy and a lot of community meetings as well as door to door canvassing and working with voters. After this failed we moved to more of a countywide focus.
We started the Protect PA quilt project shortly after. We worked on getting groups and individuals to make quilt squares. We attended local fairs and car shows with a table with information about the pipeline, as well as supplies to make the quilt squares. Now the quilt is so large we have ten five-by-five panels. In March 2016, when we completed our tenth panel and the quilt reached 50 feet, the same distance as the permanent right-of-way for the proposed pipeline, we held a press conference at a local farm that would be bisected by the pipeline. Last summer a lot of our work was based around this quilt project.
This spring, we were able to do outreach with affected landowners; more than 40 landowners in Lancaster County have not signed contracts with Williams, the pipeline company. We visit with information and little messages of encouragement. Last month, we gave out a small plant as a gift and this month we are giving out information about eminent domain and what it will look like for the affected landowners.
We are just trying to support the landowners and help them stand up to the Williams Company. There are some owners that are a part of our group and some who are resisting, but are not actively engaged with us. They want to be more private about it.
Two weeks ago, Conestoga residents organized a walk against the Pipeline. About 200 people came out to walk approximately 3.1 miles, starting at a landowners farm, continuing down Main Street and ending at the park. We were really excited about the turnout and there was great energy. We brought in some new people and had new volunteers as well as many more people joining! Last week, at the Lancaster FERC meeting we had a huge turnout. The newspapers estimated about 300 people came out, mostly in opposition to the pipeline. The meeting was very dramatic and contentious with a lot of people speaking out and adding great comments. The meeting ended with our supporters singing the FERC representatives off the stage.
Q: How has this issue affected you or your family specifically?
A: It has really opened my eyes to all kinds of other environmental issues that I was only a little bit aware of but kind of ignoring until it hit so close to home. It has turned our lives upside down; we are involved in some kind of pipeline activity 3-4 nights a week and we are spending probably 10-15 hours a week on pipeline related work. Our four-year-old son is coming to meetings and rallies with us and it’s absolutely crazy trying to balance activism and our normal lives.
Q: What media coverage and help of outside organizations were you able to secure? How has it changed the response?
A: The Sierra Club has been really supportive. They sent a mass email form letter to all regional Sierra Club members; individuals could submit the letter as is, or modify, during the comment period of the DEIS. The local media has been fairly involved with relatively good coverage. In their effort to remain unbiased the media has represented us well, but has also put in even-handed words on behalf of Williams as well.
We have also worked with many other groups, like the Clean Air Council and the Delaware River keepers. Locally, the Lancaster Conservancy and the Lancaster Farmland Trust have been very supportive. They made strong statements at the FERC meeting in Lancaster. Our allies have helped us to get good coverage in the media as well.
Q: What do you want other citizens to know as they move forward in their communities with similar issues with their local environment?
A:It’s very hard work, but it’s worth doing. People have to believe that we can stop pipelines! I think the current climate is starting to change. More folks are against these projects and we just have to keep fighting until leaders and politicians catch up. Anyone that wants to get connected please reach out! We are happy to offer advice, help others and attend events to help in any way we can.
Learn more about grassroots heroes on the front lines who work with CHEJ by staying up to date on our blogs and signing up for our e-mails here.