by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
June 15, 2012
WANT SOCIAL CHANGE? IT WON'T HAPPEN AT THE BALLOT BOX
JERSEY SHORE, Pa. -- Garder54 calls Kevin June "a real scum." LadyDawg4 calls him a "sleazeball." Proud2bMom calls him a "liar and a thief."
Kevin June is the reluctant leader for the 37 families of the Riverdale Mobile Home Village in Jersey Shore, Pa., who were evicted from their homes, most of which they owned and paid a monthly lot fee. Some of the residents lived there for more than three decades.
Most of the residents are elderly, disabled, or living slightly above the poverty line.
Several are employed; all are struggling to survive in a bad economy.
In late February, Aqua-PVR, a joint operation of Aqua America and Penn Virginia Resource Partners, bought the 12-acre trailer park for $550,000. It plans to build a pumping station to withdraw up to three million gallons of water a day from the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, and send that water through a newly-constructed pipeline system to natural gas companies that use fracking.
The controversial practice involves forcing as much as 10 million gallons of water, sand, toxic chemicals and potential carcinogens deep into the earth to withdraw natural gas. The Marcellus Shale, primarily in Pennsylvania and parts of four surrounding states, is one of the nation's largest sources for natural gas. Health and environmental pollution problems are widespread near the wells.
Aqua-PVR had originally ordered the residents to leave by May 1, but then extended it a month. It dangled a $2,500 relocation incentive in its eviction. However, the cost to move each trailer is between $6,000 and $11,000, plus any sheds and ramps.
Most regional trailer parks are either at capacity or won't accept the older trailers. Getting an apartment is also difficult. Because of the natural gas boom, with thousands of out-of-state workers moving into the area, there are few vacancies, and rents have doubled and tripled. Senior citizen housing isn't a viable option - waiting lists are as long as a year or two in most areas.
Some have been forced to sell or throw out many of their possessions and move into studio apartments or rooms with relatives. Seven families remain at the trailer park.
But the harpies who have written several hundred posts that appear on the online site of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette have been relentless in their condemnation of the residents. Hiding behind anonymous screen names, the writers, who sound like drunks in a bar fight or callers to an afternoon talk show, could be among the thousands of gas company employees who have moved into the area.
Their identities may be those of lessors who have leased part of their land to the oil companies. They could also be the business owners who have profited because of selling products to the workers. But almost all of them condemn the residents.
Linhk48, who posted several dozen times, believes "the new owner's only obligation is to give you notice to vacate. He is under absolutely no obligatin to subsidize your move, allow you to live rent-free until you move, or hire professionals to help you with relocation. Anything he does is a generosity and should be appreciated!" Linhk48, like many, called them rabblerousers/troublemakers/trespassers."
Czkb217 thought the police or National Guard could move in, and advised the residents, "SO just pack your stuff and MOVE, you are now breaking the law."
It's doubtful any of the commentators know Pennsylvania state law, but there are legal processes that must be met to evict persons from their homes. One of the issues lawyers for Riverdale will be pursuing is whether those mandated processes were met.
CitizenQ, who opposes helping the residents and who posted several times, claimed, "some of the residents have been seen stealing from others." However, the facts are that residents who left the trailer park took what they could from their own trailers, many of which could not safely be moved or which would cost too much to move, and specifically told other residents they could take whatever was left.
Linhk48 thought Aqua-PVR should take the residents to court "for leaving the property with trailer shells and trash all over and ask for clean-up costs - and punitive damages after they were so generous."
Several maliciously questioned where the donations to Riverdale went. Some specifically accused Kevin June of theft and fraud, apparently not having the time or intelligence to learn about the controls and regulations to release money from a bank-held account that is a registered 501(c) charity.
"The residents know exactly where the money went and why," says June.
When those writing into the Sun-Gazette later learned some of the money was used to buy phone cards, a camera, lawnmower, and weed-whacker, they increased their assault. Had they taken the time to think or ask questions - something those who type and pound send often don't do - they would have learned that June used the phone cards to cover the expense of numerous calls to and from attorneys, the media, and others with an interest in the residents' problems.
They would have learned that the lawyers specifically required June to document the appearance of the village and the residents' activities. They would have learned that both the previous and new owners had no intention of mowing the lawns or killing the weeds.
With pride in their community, the residents took care of the grounds. Cutting grass and eliminating weeds also served to help protect their health; living near the river, with the warm seasons approaching, the residents knew there would be increased black fly and mosquito infestations.
Woolrich haughtily wants to know, "Why on earth would you not have saved money for when you eventually had to move your mobile home???" Perhaps, Woolrich, it's because when you have poverty-level income, it's hard to save anything.
Czkb217 thought the residents should have just gotten together and bought the park. Possibly, Czkb217, since most of the families live slightly above the poverty line, they didn't have an extra $550,000 plus lawyer fees and closing costs laying around.
Nevertheless, Czkb217 believes the residents should "Just man up and put your big boy panties on and move." He objects that his taxes are supporting residents who use Legal Aid, which gets state and federal funds to help the mpoverished. In addition to North Penn Legal Services, the Community Justice Project in Pittsburgh and the Williamsport, Pa., law firm of Murphy, Butterfield & Holland are assisting pro bono.
And Justin1? He wants the residents to "Get out of the way of progress, already."
On Friday, June 1, the final day of eviction and the day Aqua-PVR executives said it would start construction, about 50 persons showed up to blockade the entrance to the park.
"We are here to fight against the exploitation and abandonment by a society of the economically vulnerable," says Dr. Wendy Lee, one of the organizers. The protestors are often identified as "out-of-town activists" or, more specifically, "environmental activists."
Bobbie2 called the scene a "liberal zoo ... a veritable microcosm of the liberal social system." Joe123 called the protestors "unorganized morons," and decided the residents "are on display by 'Fame Seekers', like trick-monkeys in a circus." Proud2bMom, with no facts, something that never stymied any of the others who wrote into the online site, claimed "the residents left that are trying to get out are more or less being held prisoner in their own homes because of the few who feel they need to block the roads."
Many of those who attacked the residents and defended corporations probably believe they are good Christians; they go to church regularly and, in one of the more conservative and highly Christian parts of the state, undoubtedly praise God publically.
However, the Rev. Leah Schade doesn't see them as good Christians. "It is a craven, cowardly way to snipe at people," she says. Those criticizing the residents "are profiting from the way things are or they are so insulated from the pain and suffering the people are undergoing that they are unable to respond with compassion," says Schade, pastor of the United in Christ Lutheran Church in nearby Lewisburg.
Schade has been to the trailer park several times to minister to the residents. "As a Christian," she says, "I make a decision to do what Jesus calls us to do - to minister to those most vulnerable and resist the powers and the principalities that seek their own self-perpetuation and their own profit." Schade, who is completing a Ph.D. in theology, points out, "The church has a long history of offering a prophetic voice to persons who are oppressed and made vulnerable by powerful systems, and who need advocates to speak for and alongside of them in the public arena."
Schade says the teachings of Jesus would tell us that what is happening to these families isn't right. "He would ask: 'Who controls the resources; who does not?' The residents and the surrounding ecosystem are the disempowered ones."
A meeting between attorneys for residents at Riverdale and Aqua-PVR was held June 5 to discuss improving the incentives and settlement for the residents. Aqua-PVR, at that time, said it has no immediate intention to remove the residents.
Resources: To assist the Riverdale trailer-park residents, go to: http://www.saveriverdale.com/
This is Part II of AR Senior Correspondent Walter Brasch's 17th Anniversary Essay on the efforts of a natural gas company to evict struggling residents of a Pa. trailer park, PCheck the search engine on AR's homepage for the first installment. Dr. Brasch is a past President of the Pa. chapter Society of Professional Journalists, and recently retired as a distinguished Professor of Journalism at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pa. An award-winning social issues journalist and the author of 17 books, most fusing history with contemporary social issues, his current book is Before the First Snow: Tales From the Revolution, a contemporary novel.