STATE IMPACT PENNSYLVANIA – Ellen Gerhart, a retired teacher who has spent years fighting to block Sunoco from building a pipeline on part of her family’s Huntingdon County land, was fined $2,000 and sentenced to two to six months in jail Friday for violating a court order prohibiting her from interfering with the project.
The company said in court filings that, among other things, Gerhart spread rotten food near the site to bother its workers, and started fires.
In one instance, Sunoco said Gerhart took a jug filled with a liquid and a rag at the top and lit it on fire while yelling, “How does it feel to be next to something that could possibly explode?”
According the Altoona Mirror, at a bail hearing Monday, Gerhart said she feels the Mariner East 2 pipeline is a risk to public safety and the environment, and that she could not remember that particular exchange.
However, she said it sounded like something she would or could have said.
The newspaper also reported Gerhart said her intention was to “annoy and harass them.”
She was sentenced Friday after a hearing on the allegations in the Huntingdon County Court of Common Pleas.
“The sentence was a little heavy handed for what was done,” said one of Gerhart’s attorneys, Rich Raiders. “I think Sunoco brought this case to make an example of her. There’s no damage, nobody was harmed, nothing was destroyed.”
Sunoco was granted eminent domain to build the pipeline on part of the Gerhart family’s 27-acre property. The family’s resistance to the project has attracted national attention. Last year, supporters built a camp in an effort to prevent the company’s work. But a county judge ordered them out of the construction area.
The Mariner East 2 pipeline is planned to carry natural gas liquids from western Pennsylvania to an export terminal near Philadelphia. The project has been plagued with numerous technical and environmental problems throughout its construction — including spills, sinkholes, and legal disputes.
Gerhart was also arrested and jailed in 2016 after she protested tree-clearing for the pipeline on her property, but the charges were later dropped.
A spokeswoman for Sunoco’s parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment Friday afternoon.