Police arrested 23 opponents of the Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline Monday afternoon after they blocked the movement of a backhoe to prevent the beginning of construction on farmland owned by a Catholic order of nuns in West Hempfield Township.
The protesters, charged with defiant trespass, had vowed to stop heavy equipment from accessing a corn field owned by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ. The protesters held hands and stood in front of the backhoe.
Authorities released the names of 21 of the protesters who were arraigned Monday. One individual had not been arraigned as of Tuesday night. One juvenile was arrested and will go through the juvenile court process, according to Brett Hambright, spokesman for the district attorney's office.
"While any arrest is a matter to be taken seriously, the protesting individuals were extremely cooperative and peaceful in their behavior today," Hambright said Monday.
"Our police officers strived to reciprocate that same level of respect in their dealings with the individuals," he said.
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Police gave protesters until 12:45 p.m. to remove the blockade. When 23 stayed, standing in rows of five, police began arresting them one by one. The protesters were handcuffed and led off without resistance as other anti-pipeline protesters cheered support.
Lancaster Against Pipelines co-founder Mark Clatterbuck said all those arrested stood in solidarity with the nuns.
"The way the system is set up, there is not a way to legally protect our communities and our water and our land from a project like this. And so it comes to civil disobedience where the community says 'We are not going to let this happen anymore,' " Clatterbuck, a Martic Township resident, said.
"We want to expose today that the system has to change. What a shame that a community is charged with trespassing on our own land to keep a harmful project out that we don't want."
At least two ministers and a public school teacher were among those arrested. Clatterbuck was not arrested but his wife and oldest teen daughter were.
"This is our last resort, to stand in front of the equipment, using civil disobedience," said Mark Reed, 58, of Earl Township.
Reed was not arrested. He was a medic for the pipeline protest group in case anyone needed first aid.
"This is how it gets done," Reed said.
The backhoe arrived shortly before noon to build an access road on the property in preparation for the pipeline. As soon as the last protester was arrested the backhoe began moving dirt.
State police, West Hempfield Township police, Southern Regional Police and federal marshals were at the site.
A Lancaster Against Pipelines Alert posted to followers at 11:27 a.m, said, "Williams says they'll start digging. We will be there. Come stand with us to stop the desecration of the sisters' property."
About 50 protesters showed up earlier in the morning at the outdoors chapel built by Lancaster Against Pipelines in a corn field owned by the nuns. Signs and banners carried by protesters included "You will not spoil this land" and "You will not endanger our people."
The nuns claim seizing their property to build a fossil fuel pipeline violates their freedom of religion, which holds that land created by God is sacred. The nuns sued the pipeline company that is about to start building the pipeline across 37 miles of Lancaster County, as well as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. A federal judge ruled against them but the case has been appealed.
The arrests occurred along Laurel Run Road, near the chapel. Earlier Monday morning, Sister Bernice Klostermann offered a prayer at the chapel filled with protesters. She added that the order does not take responsibility for people gathered in the pipeline right of way.
Williams Partners spokesman Christopher Stockton told LNP that the Oklahoma-based company informed an attorney for the nuns on Friday that construction of the pipeline would begin Monday.