Lancaster County Resident
Rural, beautiful Conestoga Township, Pennsylvania, located in southern Lancaster County, has the unfortunate potential of being ground zero for what could become out-of-control, DAPL-like protests against Williams’ Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project.
Over the past several months, opponents of Atlantic Sunrise, which is proposed to connect much needed natural gas from the northern Marcellus to Williams’ existing Transco pipeline in Lancaster County, have been organizing an effort to disrupt the pipeline’s construction. A landowner in Conestoga Township, whose property will be crossed by Atlantic Sunrise, is allowing their farmland to serve as an encampment area for project opponents who hope to attract thousands of protesters to assemble in opposition to the project.
Protesters have even erected a tall wooden structure, which they dub “The Stand,” to represent their “stand” against Atlantic Sunrise. They plan to allow access to the farm to thousands of unknown people, coming from anywhere and everywhere, to protest Williams’ project. In fact, environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, claim “The Stand” will serve as a DAPL-like protest event. It’s exactly what we don’t need in Lancaster County.
DAPL, of course, is the Dakota Access Pipeline, which experienced tens of thousands of transient, and often hostile, protesters who assembled in North Dakota for several months in opposition to Energy Transfer’s pipeline construction. Reports and images from the DAPL protest showed abandoned cars and piles of tires intentionally set on fire, dumpsters overflowing with trash, mounds of debris and human waste, and motor oil, and even dogs left stranded behind to fend for themselves. The DAPL protest is estimated to have cost taxpayers at least $38 million and the environmental impacts of the protest will take years to overcome, if ever.
Focusing on Conestoga Township and “The Stand,” the idea that thousands of transient people — some of which are paid anarchists — will be invited to camp and live on a farm, for an unknown period of time, should cause tremendous anxiety and fear for residents of Conestoga and all of Lancaster County. Who are these people? Where will they come from and what are their intentions? Will they bring the same level of anarchy and destruction to the encampment in Conestoga and to the surrounding area as they did to the encampment in Standing Rock?
I truly believe it was this sense of concern that prompted the Zoning Officer for Conestoga Township to work to enforce the zoning laws that the township has in place. You see, what those at “The Stand” may not realize is that there are more than 3,700 residents in Conestoga Township and more than 500,000 residents in Lancaster County that may not share in the same vision for chaos and disruption.
This very situation is exactly why local municipalities in Pennsylvania have zoning laws, to allow for lawful activity while protecting public safety and maintaining law and order. My understanding of the Conestoga zoning laws is that the property in question is zoned for agricultural use, and the last time I checked, anti-pipeline encampments, mass gatherings and protest training do not qualify as an agricultural use.
The Stand structure itself, built to serve as an elevated dwelling, is also a direct violation of several zoning and local, state and federal building codes. No one in Pennsylvania I know can so much as build a backyard deck or shed without some type of local permit. Why? To protect the health and safety of other residents.
The pipeline protesters believe it is within their rights to build whatever structure they like and invite whoever they want to gather and live on this farm, when in reality there are many laws and restrictions which they directly violate.
As a resident of Lancaster County, I am deeply concerned “The Stand” will give way to unbridled chaos, destruction and unrest that will shed a negative light on my home on the national news every night for weeks, months or even years. For the health and safety of residents, and for the national reputation and future of Lancaster County, I encourage my fellow neighbors to make their own stand and fight to block this protest from happening and I strongly encourage Conestoga Township to enforce their existing zoning laws to prevent this unpermitted, unsafe and unhealthy activity from spiraling out of control into something that cannot be reversed.