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Dedication of a  chapel on property owned by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in West Hempfield Township in July.

The builders of the Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline have failed to secure an early possession of property owned by defiant Roman Catholic nuns near Columbia.

The Transcontinental Pipe Line Co. had asked a federal judge to approve the condemnation of the pipeline route on the property of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in West Hempfield Township by Aug. 18, which was Friday.

But by the end of the day, the judge had issued no such ruling.

The only order issued by Judge Jeffrey Schmehl was to schedule a conference call on Aug. 25 in the order’s lawsuit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which approved the pipeline project.

Nuns from West Hempfield order lead prayer vigil prior to federal hearing on Atlantic Sunrise pipeline

The nuns have sued the federal agency, claiming the pipeline through their “sacred” land would violate their civil rights guaranteed under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The nuns believe they are called on by God to protect his “creation” for future generations and that a pipeline carrying global-warming fossil fuels “would harm God’s creation.”

A chapel that the nuns allowed pipeline opponents to build in a cornfield in the middle of the pipeline right of way has attracted international attention.

In a July ruling, Schmehl had granted Transco the right to seek eminent domain proceedings against the nuns, but refused to grant an “emergency” possession at that time.

Attorneys for the nuns said Transco was trying to head off a dedication of the chapel that was attended by hundreds of supporters.

The nuns this week filed their own request for an injunction, asking the judge to withhold any condemnation ruling while the nuns’ lawsuit against FERC is still pending.

The pipeline has yet to receive two permits it needs from the state to be built, the nuns state in their motion. So there is no justification for Transco to seek an immediate possession, the motion states.

The nuns say Transco, a subsidiary of Atlantic Sunrise builder Williams Partners, should have no right to take their property because Transco is a private, for-profit company seeking financial gain.

300 show up for nuns' chapel dedication to express opposition to pipeline

“Transco has made it clear that should it be granted possession, it will immediately use the authority and force of federal marshals to remove the Sisters from their own land, preventing them from exercising their religious beliefs and practices to protect their land from being used to facilitate action that violates their beliefs,” the motion says.

The Atlantic Sunrise project would pass through 37 miles of Lancaster County, and Transco has secured easements on many affected properties. Only a handful of property owners, including the nuns, have not granted easements or have had their land condemned. 

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