By Lia Oprea
We have been called activists, environmentalists, rabble-rousers, troublemakers and – this one made us chuckle – liberal ninnies. We are against the Northern Access Pipeline. But if you have a moment to listen, we’d like to tell you who we really are.
We are farmers. We are like you. We work for a living. We see our friends in church on Sunday and we are back out in our barns that evening milking cows, tending to cattle or ordering seeds for spring. We have poultry farms and maple barns. We raise horses. We care for the land and farms handed down to us by our fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers before them. We are dependable neighbors with know-how, and loyal friends lending a helping hand in our communities.
We are not against progress and we are not naive. We know that many regions depend on fracked gas for heating. But we in the rural areas are moving ahead and exploring wind, solar and geothermal power for our farms. We realize that fossil fuels are going the way of the dinosaur and we need renewable sources of energy to pass our farms on to the next generations.
We who have lived here, some since the 1800s and many since far before then, are wondering what system is used when it comes to deciding who gets to keep their land, care for it and work it and who gets to condemn it, take it and tear it up. Somehow, on this scale, it seems more weight is given to a private fuel company threatening to confiscate our farmland under eminent domain than is given to those who have lived, worked, farmed and enjoyed these Western New York fields, woods and streams for generations.
National Fuel is offering us sums ranging from $3,000 to $35,000 to condemn and take our land for the Northern Access Pipeline right of way.
This offer may seem like a deal to you, but not to us. We could make much more off this land. Not only could we farm it, we could rent the land to other farmers for income to pay our property taxes and maintenance costs. We could build cabins to rent to sportsmen who flock to Cattaraugus Creek, Ischua Creek and the Allegany River in the spring and fall. We could finance family college tuitions by harvesting our hardwood forests. We could build our retirement homes on the land or homes for our kids so they could live close by. The Northern Access Pipeline eminent domain will take these options away.
So we ask National Fuel officials to explain the upside of this deal they are offering us. We are willing to listen. National Fuel’s proposed Northern Access Pipeline is a transmission line, bringing fracked gas from Pennsylvania to Canada. It is not a distribution line for Western New York farms, homes, businesses and communities. There are distribution pipelines already in place doing just that.
Adding injury to insult, the in-place distribution lines bypass many of our farms and we rely on propane, yet we have lived with the odor of leaking gas from these old pipelines for years.
We are farmers. We ask only what is fair. In our opinion, this isn’t fair.
Lia Oprea is founder of WECAP, a landowner and water protector alliance in the Southtowns and Southern Tier.