WYALUSING TOWNSHIP — A few dozen environmentally and historically conscious locals protested the construction the New Fortress Liquefied Natural Gas facility in Wyalusing Township on Saturday.
The nine-hour protest and symposium began on Route 6 near the construction site, then continued at the Wyalusing Community Corporation building for presentations on Wyalusing’s history.
The New Fortress LNG facility, which is being built near a railroad, would create large volumes of liquefied natural gas and ship it all around the world. The plant’s cost is estimated around $800 million.
The organizer of the protest, Brian Keeler, said that he began to organize the event after he learned that the Wyalusing Township supervisors had given a thumbs up to permit requests to build the facility in a historically significant area. Keeler said that he wrote letters to the township but did not receive a response.
“To me that was the last straw because it was such a humongous intrusion into the Susquehanna River Valley,” Keeler told the Review.
One of the reasons behind the protest is that the New Fortress facility is being built upon the location of the original Wyalusing village. One of the speakers at the symposium, Bucknell Professor of German and Comparative Humanities Katherine Faull, showed that the construction of the facility had already covered the village’s cemetery and that the proposed drainage ditch would go through the center of the village through maps of the original village. Also, one of the oldest homes in the county, the Schultz home, was demolished in the construction of the facility.
“It was a beautiful house,” Keeler said. “This company is so wealthy, they’re spending $800 million to build the facility, they could have just moved the home... It underscores the fact that they don’t really appreciate or care about the history, historic architecture, or sacred grounds really.”
Keeler said that the reason for the protest was not just the intrusion on Wyalusing’s historic grounds, but a combination of many factors.
The existential threat of climate change and safety aspects of the facility bring concern from the protesters as much as the historical aspect.
“It’s a highly volatile product that is extremely dangerous to transport and manufacture,” Keeler said of the fossil fuel that would add more carbon into the atmosphere if burned. “Part of it is the way it’s been portrayed in the press, our local press, presenting it as green energy — and that’s what the energy industry would like us to believe. But it’s anything but green. It’s extremely ungreen in many ways.”
Keeler’s family has been in the Wyalusing area for generations, where he still owns property while spending the majority of his time in Ithaca, New York. As a painter he has produced numerous works of the specific area where the LNG facility is to be built.
“It’s a very special place to me, my ancestors have had cottages and homes on the river, my family has been in the area for five generations,” he added. “It’s a transgression of beauty beyond the pale.”
Keeler said that in his life he’s been witness to the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania’s turn into what he calls “essentially a giant industrial park.”
“We’re enabling this backwards industry that’s putting all of this infrastructure into Pennsylvania when we should be going the other as far as I’m concerned,” he remarked. “There seems to be no qualms about wherever they go.”
Keeler said that he believes that the elected officials in the county and township should consider more than just money when approving these sorts of projects.
“They seems to only have dollar signs in their mind, they don’t get the picture of the triple bottom line — the social, economic, and environmental effects. It only seems the monetary is taken into consideration in backing the gas companies. To put it squarely they seem to be in the pocket of the fracking companies.”
No future protest is currently planned, but Keeler and the group of environmentalists would not rule out the possibility of more.