Charges have been dropped against three people, including a retiree and her daughter, who objected to tree clearing on their family’s Huntingdon County property last spring, to make way for a new natural gas liquids pipeline.
Ellen Gerhart, her daughter Elise, and activist Alex LoTorto faced charges including disorderly conduct and contempt of court, for objecting to crews cutting down trees for Sunoco Logistics’ planned Mariner East 2 pipeline. Elise Gerhart climbed one of the trees in an effort to physically block the work.
If built, the Mariner East 2 would span 350 miles of southern Pennsylvania and pass through 17 counties carrying natural gas liquids from western Pennsylvania to a Philadelphia refinery. The project has not yet received all the necessary regulatory approvals, and some landowners along the route, including the Gerharts, are still in court fighting Sunoco over eminent domain issues.
Ellen Gerhart claims following her arrest, she was held for three days in solitary confinement in the Centre County Prison. When she refused to answer correctional officers’ questions, Gerhart says she was placed on suicide watch and was not allowed to contact anyone, including her attorney.
“Those charges should have never been brought in the first place,” says Gerhart. “The whole incarceration was ridiculous.”
A spokeswoman for the prison confirmed Gerhart was an inmate but wouldn’t discuss details of her treatment, instead offering a policy on about how the prison prevents suicide.
Huntingdon County District Attorney Dave Smith couldn’t be reached for comment. He recently told the Huntingdon Daily News the charges were dropped because the Gerharts were protesting on private property.
“We took a hard look at the case and did some research,” he told the newspaper. “For us to proceed on disorderly conduct charges, it would have had to have been on public property.”
A Sunoco spokesman declined to comment, noting the company is still involved in litigation with the family.
Ellen Gerhart calls her treatment in the prison, “totally inappropriate” and views the entire episode as an intimidation tactic.