"In 1948, I was an apprentice in a one-man engraving and jewelry shop. My boss worked very hard to establish his small business. One day two Hungarian secret police, dressed like the Gestapo from years before, came in their long leather coats to the shop. They said to my boss, “This shop is now nationalized; you have to leave.” In a few minutes, my boss was gone. The “police” told me to take an inventory of the tools in the shop and they told me I would have a job in the nationalized jewelry and engraving system. By that time all major businesses, banks, and mines, were taken over by the communists. This is the way it was. As a result, I have seen the arbitrary decisions made by both the Nazis and the Communists. In 1956 we Hungarians rebelled against the Soviet Union and the Hungarian Communists.
I wanted you to know all this, because now, the Sunoco Logistics company wants to take over part of our land."
-Stephen Gerhart, March 28, 2016, Letter to Judge George Zanic
The Gerhart family of Huntingdon, PA were model citizens when it came to allowing their land to thrive. As Stephen Gerhart wrote, "ducks, geese, herons, kingfishers, turtles, frogs, and fish have all found homes there. Our century old trees are homes for countless birds and mammals, including the endangered Indiana brown bat. Our forest is teeming with other wildlife, deer, bear, foxes, snakes, turkeys, grouse, that make their homes there." In 1982, the family placed their forests in the Pennsylvania Forest Stewardship Program, under which the property was promised to be kept safe from industrial development and ecological interference from humans.
However, the family's rights to continue this protection were taken away through eminent domain, and while Ellen and Stephen Gerhart were appealing this decision in court, Sunoco Logistics Partners sent tree crews to clear-cut the sections of the forest in the Mariner East 2 Pipeline route. At this time, their daughter Elise Gerhart and other concerned citizens arrived to document violations of the clearing and, in Elise's case, occupying a tree in the hopes of sparing some of the trees around her.
When concerned that some of the falling trees were endangering her daughter, Ellen crossed into "the danger zone" and was arrested for contempt of a court order. After her release on bond on March 30, Ellen returned home.
But the Gerharts' fight was not about to end. On April 7, the tree clearing crews returned to the property with their chainsaws to finish the job, despite an emergency injunction from the court stating all tree clearing must be completed by March 31, in order to comply with the Migratory Birds Treaty Act to protect the endangered Indiana bat. Elise returned to her perch in a tree, despite having read and heard wishes that she would be harmed for her resistance.
Aware of the injunction and concerned that Sunoco's crew was past the March 31 deadline for tree clearing, Ellen Gerhart called the police to report the activity, but when the police arrived, they arrested her a second time. Ellen denied bail and refused to speak or eat while in Centre County Corrections, and accepted bail on April 9 after two days in solitary confinement.
On a Facebook page with live updates on the family's story, Ellen wrote the following: "Rest assured that our fight to protect the environment and private property from Sunoco did not end when they cut down our trees (3 big pines are still standing). This is a 2 pronged fight--1. to protect private property from being taken over by a giant corporation and 2. to protect the environment from needless destruction."