Landowners on Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline Route Testify Against Project

READING — Testimony continued Thursday morning in a federal courtroom where a property owner impacted by the proposed route of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline described the hardships the project will cause.

“Myself and my entire family are deathly afraid of the pipeline,” said Gary Erb, of Conestoga. “We don’t want to be anywhere near it.”

The Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. is seeking an injunction to take land via eminent domain. Transco wants to build just over 200 miles of pipeline, including 37 miles through Lancaster County to carry natural gas from shale fields in northern Pennsylvania to markets in the south.

According to testimony Monday, most of the gas is destined for foreign markets.

Several landowners — including the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, a Catholic order with land near Columbia — are trying to halt the project by blocking seizure of their land.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl is hearing the case, which will continue at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

Landowner testimony

Erb, who owns 72 acres at 415 Hilltop Drive with his wife, Michelle, testified Thursday morning that pipeline construction will interfere with tenant farming on three parcels of his land. The pipeline also will cut through a forested area he uses for hunting, he said.

It also disrupts plans for Erb’s three sons to build homes on the tract, he said during questioning by attorney Michael Onufrak.

Elizabeth Witmer, lead counsel for Transco, objected to his testimony, noting that no plans for construction have been filed. The judge overruled her, saying he “has to weigh irreparable harm” in his deliberations.

However, during cross-examination, Erb said construction of an additional house could still be feasible, but his family doesn’t want to live in close proximity to the line.

Erb also described his efforts to get Transco to consider an alternate route, which would still be on his land but would run immediately parallel to an existing PPL easement. Erb said the builders did not consider the option.

Stephen Hoffman — who lives with his wife and a daughter on 110 acres of forest and farmland at 3049 Safe Harbor Road, Millersville — testified that a Transco land representative tried to get him to sign documents that would give the company access to his land for surveying purposes.

Hoffman declined to sign, he said; however, he said, landowners who did sign lost much of their ability to block Transco from taking an easement from their property.

During the planning process, he added, the pipeline’s route shifted from a remote area of his land to a segment very close to his home.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the $2.5 billion construction project in February. The order, according to testimony Monday, stipulates the company’s right to seize a 50-foot-wide right-of-way through eminent domain for construction, operation and maintenance of the line.

Williams hopes to begin construction locally in mid- to late August, with the pipeline in service by next summer.

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