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  • Linda Graves

Observing Paradise Before the Fall- and before the parking lot or an LNG plant

A Commentary on the Environment by Brian Keeler

The news of the proposed LNG plant by New Fortress Energy on the shores of the Susquehanna in Browntown, PA was met with dismay and extreme incredulity as to how a governing entity such as the Wyalusing township supervisors could unanimously vote to approve such a horrendous project. We’ve heard of the fracking industry opening a floodgate of related industries and this proposed behemoth goes way beyond that cautionary tale. The plant, if built, would occupy a whopping 265 acres along the river and the company reps believe that with the right vegetation it would be unobtrusive. Do they really expect us to believe that a few trees and shrubs would obscure such an intrusive and sprawling industrial complex?

The fact that our township supervisors are supposedly there to work for the greater benefit of Wyalusing is part of the incredulity. Other than the speculated financial gain, which is bandied about as positive motivation for endorsing the LNG plant, which some say is dubious, it hardly justifies such a gargantuan desecration of a beautiful stretch of river plane.

This painting of the Susquehanna shows the village of Sugar Run, PA. The vantage point is a small island right in front of the proposed site for the LNG plant.

We often hear of financial benefits being the final arbiter and justification for these projects. Money is not the only bottom line. There is a triple bottom line that should always be regarded, especially when considering the impact of such endeavors. That triple bottom line would be to consider; the social, environmental and financial aspects as a more comprehensive approach.

The environmental risks alone should set off alarm bells enough, along with the aesthetic defilement not to mention the historic disregard of the construction of such a plant. The land was the site of the original Friedenshutten village and was probably sacred ground to the Native Americans before that. One certainly wonders now, what the criteria is for passing such land use permits. I’ve been told there are also Federal guidelines for historic and archeological sites that should be met as well. Have these been addressed? The only token concession that was mentioned in one article was to agree to having a traffic light installed on Route 6 where hundreds of trucks a day would enter. What a pathetic bandaid.

This brings up the apparent support this proposal was given by he Greater Wyalusing Chamber of Commerce (GWCC) according the article by James Lowenstein in the Rocket-Courier. The mission statement of the GWCC originally had mention of protecting and enhancing the historic nature of Wyalusing, and there were several projects by members all related to honoring and strengthening our heritage. This was the main aspect that inspired me to become a member and serve on the board of the GWCC for ten years. The current mission statement has omitted that clause, so apparently this allows for the GWCC to back this misguided LNG plant. Historic preservation was also part of the general goal of the Wyalusing Community Corporation, but perhaps that has changed also with new membership.

The article by Lowenstein mentions the power point presentation given by the company behind the LNG project as it supposedly allayed concerns of safety due to their track record in Miami. While concern with safety is laudable, I would suggest that trust was given to other energy giants like BP and Exxon and with the Gulf disaster and the Valdez wreck we can see that catastrophes can and do happen. There is also the aspect of gas companies reneging on contracts to local landowners, which would also seem like it should raise red flags as to accountability and trust. It was mentioned in Lowenstein’s article that the township supervisors had praise for the good work on the slide presentation. I am sorry, but patting the back of energy reps for a good power point presentation strikes me as being akin to honoring the propagandist filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl for promoting the Third Reich. She reportedly felt no remorse in later years for using her art to promote a reprehensible regime- and we wonder if the conscience of gas-company lackeys will be the same.

It is easy to understand how nearby landowners like David Buck and others are aghast at the idea of this monstrosity being built along the river. Some have spent years there or even generations trying to protect the river and foster awareness of the ecological fragility and we have all watched beautiful sunsets from this area. So the idea of an industrial eyesore spewing light pollution and digging an infrastructure into sacred ground undoubtedly strikes them as repugnant. These opinions are not restricted to those living within eyesight of this stretch of the Susquehanna. In a blog and Facebook site I’ve posted a commentary on this subject and the responses were overwhelmingly against the project. These are a few of their opinions about the LNG plant; “a visual nightmare,” “ truly frustrating. Just when we begin to think there is progress in beginning to wean away from fossil fuels, another project like this rears its ugly head,” “OMG, this is horrifying,” “Our ancestors came back to this area after suffering atrocity after atrocity. Back in the 1780 era they settled from Homets Ferry to Merryall. Surely this sell out is making them all turn in their graves.” 

A nocturne view to the Susquehanna at Sugar Run by Brian Keeler. The planned LNG would sit on 265 acres of beautiful river plane and be an illuminated monstrosity. It would be situated on the shore right across from Sugar Run, below where the moon is rising in this painting.

There is a certain inevitability voiced in some quarters when discussing the fracking industry in northern Pennsylvania. The implication is that it is going to happen regardless of the way we feel or how we protest, and perhaps Bradford County is a lost cause in this respect. But I would suggest that one look no further than New York State to see how the fracking industry was stopped by the will of the people. There was a similar project planned for underneath Seneca Lake near Watkins Glen, where a storage facility was planned by a Texas energy company. The citizenry became mobilized and organized and through a lot of personal sacrifice this project was halted. This storage site of highly flammable propane would have endangered the drinking water of tens of thousands not to mention impacting the beautiful lake country with all aspects of this voracious industry. So the supposed inevitability can be arrested and questioned as long as people are willing and visionary enough to consider alternatives. As an example of this, there are entire countries that have voted to ban fracking. For example, just this fall, Ireland voted to prohibit fracking. So even though wide swaths of the US may be open territory for corporate takeovers and environmental desecration, it is not a done deal everywhere.

Part of my abhorrence with this industrial onslaught is personal. I have spent many enjoyable experiences on the river and this location in particular holds significance. This stretch of the river has been the inspiration of quite a few my paintings done from these islands and shorelines on both sides of the river between Sugar Run and Browntown. An illustration of the Friedenshutten village that I did many years ago is in the Wyalusing Valley Museum and is reproduced on the plaque next to the monument on this land.

"Summer Sunset" - 42" x 46" Oil on linen by Brian Keeler depicts the view looking upstream right in front of the site of the proposed LNG plant in Browntown, PA. Imagine summer evenings like this, but instead of enjoying the light, or hearing a flock of starlings swoosh overhead, there would be the hum of an electric plant and 265 acres of lights along with hundreds of trucks making noise. The painting is an private collection in Wyalusing.

While considering the impact of such a project since reading of it, the lyrics of the WVHS alma mater came to me, which make mention of the Wyalusing Valley on the Susquehanna shore. Its hard to believe that people who grew up here and supposedly love and appreciate the beauty of the area could be enabling such wholesale defilement. Perhaps when the entire river valley is filled up with similar plants, pipelines, toxic water storage ponds and depots, maybe then someone will say enough is enough.

This painting, 44" x 48" oil "Luminous Landscape" shows the river right across from the site of the proposed LNG plant. Beautiful summer evenings like this will never be the same if the gargantuan LNG plant is constructed.


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