A brief standoff between state police and anti-gas industry protesters at the former site of the Riverdale Mobile Home Village ended peacefully Tuesday afternoon with no arrests and no protesters remaining on the property.
Protesters, who have been on the site for almost two weeks to support three families who remain at the park, left after being told by police they would be arrested if they stayed there.
The remaining residents were not removed from the property or threatened with arrest. Attorneys representing the residents are negotiating with officials of the company that now owns the park regarding a moving incentive offered to the residents. Neither the company nor residents would discuss details of the negotiations.
Aqua-PVR, of Bryn Mawr, bought the property in late February. The company plans to build a water withdrawal facility on it to support the natural gas industry. The facility will remove up to 3 million gallons of water per day and pipe it to gas well sites to the north.
Company officials said the facility will remove about 1,000 water hauling trucks per day from local roads.
Residents of the 37-unit park were given until June 1 to leave and most of them did. A few holdouts remained, however. As the deadline loomed, protesters arrived at the park to show their support for them.
On Tuesday, employees of a private security firm hired by Aqua-PVR, Huffmaster Security Services, were the first to arrive at the park. Gordon Brooks, of the Michigan-based company, explained to protesters that the employees were there to ensure the property's owners had safe and free access to the property.
Security company personnel then began dismantling the barricade blocking one of two access roads to the park, then stood watch as construction workers began installing orange construction fencing around the property.
Several protesters began chanting at the security personnel, urging them to join them in their protest. One protester played his guitar as others sang "This Land is Your Land."
Shortly after the security company began its work, several state troopers arrived and confronted a more stubborn group of protesters at the second access road entrance.
State Police Cpl. Michael Simpler, of the Montoursville barracks, told protesters they had 20 to 30 minutes to gather their belongings and vacate the property.
Simpler said the protesters could continue their vigil, but had to conduct it off of the property along the berm of the road. Protesters were not allowed to stop the park's owners from entering and exiting the property, Simpler said.
Some of the protesters began dismantling the barricade, while about a dozen others picked up a large banner and retreated about 100 feet farther into the park, where they stood in defiance, as if inviting arrest.
Soon, another contingent of state police arrived, some with nylon handcuffs attached to their belts. The police then moved into the park and began to assemble near the banner-holding protesters.
When that happened, the protesters huddled for a brief discussion.
"(The protest) is very democratic," explained Wendy L. Lee, a Bloomsburg University professor who belongs to the anti-gas industry group Occupy Well Street. "They are making important decisions right now about what they feel they must do. They are young people and they are making decisions about what they value."
When the discussion ended, the banner-carriers walked out of the park, clutching the banner with one hand and holding the other up in a clenched fist. Some sang the labor movement song, "Solidarity Forever."
Trooper Michael Knight, of the Montoursville barracks, said police were more interested in diffusing the situation than making arrests.
Police were, however, required to remove anyone trespassing on the property. The issue at hand had nothing to do with the pros and cons of the natural gas industry, Knight said.
"At this point it's a trespass situation. When a crime occurs in Pennsylvania, we are obligated to enforce the law," Knight said. "It's a private property issue."
"We have a property owner who wants access to his property," said State Police Lt. Randy Devine. "That's all we want."
After protesters moved out of the park, Simpler told them no one would be arrested if they needed a little more time to remove their belongings.
After leaving the property, protesters stood along the construction fence-line, holding hands and shouting words of support to residents.
Jeff Anderson of Benton, who said he has been at the park since before the protest began, said the protest will continue.
"What you're seeing is a large energy company yanking a community out of their homes, and doing it with a smile on their face," Anderson said, adding that protesters want residents, including those who already moved, to continue feeling supported.
Anderson said he felt "terrible" about protesters being removed from the property, but he also saw a silver lining in Tuesday's setback. The protest provided residents with more time to negotiate with the company, he said. Hopefully, that will allow them to work out a better deal than the initial $2,500 moving incentive offered by the company.
If Anderson felt terrible about what happened on Tuesday, the park's former owner, Richard "Skip" Leonard and his son Rick Leonard, seemed pleased. The Leonards own a river lot that only can be accessed by a park road right of way.
"We want it known that these people have been harassing us for a month," Rick Leonard said. "We can't use our river property. None of our friends will come down here."
Skip Leonard said he wanted to sell the property to another mobile home park operator, and almost did, but the county's flood plain ordinance prevented that from happening. That is because any mobile home park lot that becomes vacant cannot be rented unless the pad is raised more than 12 feet, he said. Raising a pad could cost tens of thousands of dollars, he said.
One of the holdout residents, Kevin June, said he could not discuss the ongoing negotiations with the company, nor could he continue to fraternize with the protesters.
Doing so could jeopardize negotiations with the company, he said.
Donna P. Alston, director of communications for Aqua America, the developer's parent company, said company officials are pleased protesters chose to cooperate with police.
"We've always said we wanted things to be lawful and hope that will continue," she said.
Alston said construction of the facility is expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of this year.