Judge orders Sunoco pipeline protesters off own property

A judge has ordered a Pennsylvania family to vacate some of its property that was seized by company that wants to lay a $2.5 billion pipeline across it.

An attorney for the Gerhart family isn't sure whether they'll appeal Thursday's order by Huntingdon County Judge George Zanic. The judge issued the order after a hearing Wednesday at which attorneys for Sunoco Logistics referred to those who have camped on the property in protest and built an intricate network of treehouses "eco-terrorists."

Ellen Gerhart's family and their supporters have been camping out since March to protest a right of way obtained by Sunoco. The Gerharts are still waiting for the state Supreme Court to decide whether to hear their appeal of Zanic's earlier ruling letting Sunoco take 3.2 acres (1.3 hectares) of the family's 27-acre (11-hectare) tract through eminent domain. The company seized the land after the Gerharts refused the company's offers to pay for it.

The Gerharts and other opponents contend the 350-mile (563-kilometer) Mariner East 2 pipeline that will carry propane, butane and ethane is dangerous and damages the environment.

"There were hundreds of trees that they cut down," Ellen Gerhart told The Altoona Mirror last month. "All you are going to be left with is this dangerous pipeline."

The company's Mariner East 1 pipeline has been carrying fuel since 2014 and has leaked several times, including in neighboring Blair County, where some of Gerhart's supporters live.

"I'm pretty disappointed in his ruling," said Bridgette Jackson, a member of the Blair County Coalition for Public Safety, which opposes the pipeline. She expects the protesters to stay put, saying, "The efforts are still going to continue down there."

If that happens, it will violate Zanic's order, which gave the Gerharts and others 48 hours to remove the treehouses, banners and other items.

"Any items remaining within the easement thereafter shall be viewed as abandoned, illegal obstructions and shall be removed and disposed of," the judge wrote. "Any items which cannot be readily removed may be destroyed."