I covered this story – which unfolded an hour from where I live – for multiple outlets. I visited several of the families who lived in what seemed a tight-knit community on the shore of Long Island Sound. Suzette Kelo was the owner of said little pink house and lead plaintiff for the whole neighborhood that was destroyed when they lost their case at the high court. Even more maddening, again quoting Wikipedia, “The case arose in the context of condemnation by the city of New London, Connecticut, of privately owned real property, so that it could be used as part of a ‘comprehensive redevelopment plan.’ However, the private developer was unable to obtain financing and abandoned the redevelopment project, leaving the land as an undeveloped empty lot."
I went back to see the destruction after all the families had been forced out.
This court decision is what has enabled the taking of private property for private gain over and over in the past 13 years. Like the destruction of thousands of trees along 26 miles of a proposed fracked gas pipeline in Pennsylvania – including the sugar bush (trees yielding sap for maple syrup) of a family that invited people onto their land to resist the taking until they were stopped by a court order and marshalls armed with semi-automatic weapons to “protect” the workers who took the trees down. Then New York State, where 100 more miles of the pipeline were to be built, killed the project so it never saw the light of day. Click here to hear/read my Between the Lines interview with Megan Holleran, who led the family's fight.
Many more recent examples of the use of eminent domain for private gain have been occurring in Virginia and West Virginia, as homeowners and their supporters fight the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines. One particularly egregious story involves the Reilly family – mom, dad, and four home-schooled children who were raising animals on an organic farm in bucolic southwestern Virginia. They were openly opposed to the Mountain Valley pipeline passing through their land, threatening their home, their water and their peace of mind. Yet FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) gave EQT Midstream Partners, LP, the lead company building the pipeline, permission to start felling trees along the 303-mile route, even though it didn’t have all the final approvals it needed. When a protester took up residence in a tree along the pipeline route, the family expressed their support, since such actions slow down these projects. The company took them to court and a judge fined Ian and Carolyn Reilly each $1,000 – payable to the company. You can hear/read my interview with Carolyn Reilly here.
People are still resisting, and it seems a majority of the tree sitters have been women – in many cases, older women. After one was forced down when law enforcement prevented her support team from delivering food or water for several days, another woman began a tree sit in a nearby tree.
As my friend Lyn wrote in an email sharing these latest developments with friends, “Suppose I lived in a beautiful forest. Then suppose that my parents, grandparents and great grandparents had also lived there. For years my family had felt blessed by the forest. Suppose further that one day the beauty, peace and God-given stillness of my place were shaken by huge death machines that threatened everything with extinction and poisoning. I wonder what I would do...Would I say to myself, ‘I am powerless, a small person. I guess I'll just move to another place. After all, some consider this destruction to be necessary progress.’ Would I?”
I hope I wouldn’t. And even if we don't have to make such a heart-wrenching choice ourselves, we can support these brave aerial activists. For more, read this inspiring article from the Guardian.