Marcellus Shale

*UPDATE II* Property Rights: Where Do We Draw the Line?

Update II (6/7/12 1:30 ET): Two months later, unlike the similar circumstances in the Poconos, we are still talking about Riverdale Mobile Home Village. As a quick update, this park, located in a flood plain, was bought by Aqua America earlier this year to be turned into a water withdrawal facility for use by the natural gas industry. Because the park resides in a flood plain, it is a danger to the residents. Our last update showed how anti-natural gas activists were using the park residents to go after Aqua America, despite the owners allowing the residents to stay beyond the eviction date free of charge and giving them money to help with relocation costs. So, why is it still in the news if residents were working with the company and the relocation is for the betterment of the residents, not to mention the very clear property rights of both the previous and current owners? Why, because it fits an anti-natural gas agenda, of course.  Plainly and simply, this is a case of exploitation by agenda-driven anti-development groups who want a victim to exploit.

Now, Water Defense (actor Mark Ruffalo and friends) has promoted a blockade with seven of the residents. (Read on for more of the update after the jump).
Faced with imminent eviction by the fracking industry, seven families and their allies are blockading the entrance to the Riverdale mobile home site in Pennsylvania and demanding justice.Fracking is already causing an unprecedented public health crisis Pennsylvania. Across the state, Pennsylvania citizens are coping with contaminated water and carcinogenic air emissions. Pennsylvania’s politicians, who have taken millions from the gas industry, have done everything in their power to keep the gas flowing and keep the public in the dark—they’ve even passed a doctor gag order preventing physicians from revealing which fracking chemicals have poisoned their patients.

The Riverdale families who are refusing to be evicted to make way for this toxic nightmare are heroes—and they need your help. Click here to show your support for their brave actions.

Earth to Water Defense: You discuss the endangerment of these families because of hydraulic fracturing and natural gas development, but here’s a reality check; the park is in a flood plain! You are perpetuating the endangerment of  these individuals and asking them to risk their lives and homes to jump on your bandwagon to serve your cause and your interests. You are asking them to continue to live in a dangerous situation to fit your own agenda!  Further, are you saying a business owner had no right to sell his business?

The way Water Defense and other activists have used these families is disturbing.  If Water Defense really cared for the residents it would help them to reach a realistic solution. Why blockade the park? Why continue to encourage families to reside in an unsafe location? If Water Defense were truly there to be of assistance, it would be donating money to help them relocate. Or, it would be spending it’s time looking for new homes, instead of camping out in Lycoming County. It is sad to see how these families have been used — and that’s the real injustice.

UPDATE I (4/19/12 11:00 ET) Unlike the similar situation in the Poconos, Riverdale continues to make headlines, with an article appearing yesterday morning in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Andrew Maykuth’s article highlights a protest that occurred yesterday outside of Aqua America’s facilities in southeast PA and also provides information about how Riverdale residents view the situation that is confronting them. 

As noted the Inquirer highlights the opinions of people who actually live in the Riverdale park. It turns out the very people who are affected by this the most have a much different opinion than those who purport to represent their interests.  That is easily noticeable in a quote provided by the leader of a group representing Riverdale residents:

“I am not going to protest against Aqua America,” he said. “They were not the ones who caused all this.” – Kevin June

Another interesting fact highlighted by the article is that no one from the community attended this makeshift protest which was organized by Clean Water Action.  Even more interesting is the fact that not a single sign held by the protestors even references the plight of the residents being affected, it was indeed all about hydraulic fracturing- it seems the residents were merely an afterthought for these activists.

Activists Outside Aqua America

The Inquirer article reiterates  that the property has been for sale for years and highlights that continued operation of the park was impossible as any  new ownership is prohibited from continuing to operate the land as a mobile home park because of its location in the floodplain.

Aqua’s DeBenedictis said the company had been negotiating to buy the property for a year. The land is zoned for light-industrial use and is along a deep part of the river, which allows for easier withdrawals.Richard A. “Rick” Leonard Jr., the son of the former owners, said the Riverdale park had been marked with a “for sale” sign for many years. Since the land is in a floodplain — some trailers have been damaged or lost in floods — authorities would not allow a new owner to continue to operate it as a mobile-home park.

Aqua America, the new owner, is working to support the residents during this difficult time by refusing to charge them fees while they remain on the land.  The company is also offering compensation to the residents to offset the costs of having to move their homes – which was an unavoidable circumstance regardless of the property’s end use.

–original article April 18, 2012 —

Property rights are at the center of the debate on natural gas. We see discussion of them surface in everything from leasing to water withdrawals  and now the topic is being addressed in the media, yet again, in a dispute between the residents of a mobile home park, the owner of the land and the company he has sold it to. It is an emotional situation, no doubt, but when you cast the emotion aside and look at it for what it is, it clearly becomes a case of basic property rights where the anti-natural gas contingency is asserting landowners should have none.

Riverdale Mobile Home Village

Last month, the residents of the Riverdale Mobile Home Village in Piatt Township, Pennsylvania were informed the park had been sold to Aqua PVR, LLC who plans to close the court. Under normal circumstances, this would likely get little media attention.  While unfortunate for residents, most acknowledge a situation like this as being attributable to the risk associated with renting a property.

That is exactly how a similar closing in the Poconos was viewed which occurred at about the same time. In this example, when a park owner evicts residents without giving a reason for doing so, no one bats an eye.  Head on over to Riverdale and there is quite an uproar leading some to ask why that might be the case. Well, because it provides a platform for those hoping to shut down natural gas development, of course. You see, the park is being closed because it was sold to Aqua PVR and they plan to use the facility as a water withdrawal site for the natural gas industry.

For Sale: Floodplain Property

Riverdale Mobile Home Village

Riverdale, which is nestled in a small section of the Susquehanna River floodplain in Lycoming County, has been for sale for the past few years.  This was no secret to residents, although they did not know some of the offers were from companies with interests outside of maintaining a mobile home community. We can debate the ethics behind the landowner disclosing this information to his renters until we’re blue in the face, but the fact remains that he was not obligated to inform them they might have to move.

It is within the owner’s property rights to use said property however the owner deems so long as it is within the restrictions of the county zoning plan in which Piatt Township participates. It may have been his intentions to sell to another mobile home community entrepreneur, but running such a facility in a floodplain is a risky and costly venture and was likely a pretty hard sell. The point is, though, it doesn’t matter what the owner’s intentions were, it is the owner’s right to  sell his or her land. End of story.

Floodplain Map of Riverdale

However, a larger problem is that this property is located right in the middle of the Susquehanna River’s floodplain (see map to the right)!  It has long been public policy to remove manufactured (mobile) home parks, out of the floodplain due to the likely damages and losses residents will experience from living there.  The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, in fact, has recommended the Commonwealth “Initiate programs that move mobile home residents out of floodplains.”

Occupy Well Street Occupies Riverdale

It is, without question, unfortunate these individuals were displaced from their homes and are being required to find new housing or move their homes to new locations.

However, activists aren’t helping the family find safer locations for their homes nor are they defending other residents where this is occurring. While Alex Lotorto of Occupy Well Street is busy claiming the Riverdale action as an “injustice” he is seemingly blind to the plight of mobile home residents in the Poconos, closer to his own residence, who are facing the same fate.

Why is one case clearly accepted as an exercise of property rights and the other presented as an instance of something entirely different? It’s pretty simple, actually. Riverdale fits an agenda and the plight of the other community does not.

This reflects what is truly sad and unfortunate about this situation. Rather than offering resources to all in this situation anti-natural gas activists are using this community to further their own agenda.  While the residents of the Riverdale park may think they have found supportive allies,  in actuality they found a convenient partner that will be on to their next headline grabbing effort in quick fashion likely leaving Riverdale behind when this occurs.

So, where do we draw the line?  Should this landowner have been required to continue to spend money to maintain a mobile home park when the landowner had no longer desire to continue the business? Especially when public policy is to move families to higher ground anyway to avoid damages and losses that come with living in a floodplain?

Most of us, if we really think about this question and are honest, would say no.

At the end of the day, it does not matter who the buyer was or what their intentions were. It doesn’t matter if the property was being turned into a shopping mall, highway or a water withdrawal facility.  The owner and the buyer were exercising their legal property rights, and we have no right to tell them what they can and cannot do with that property so long as it meets the requirements of law.



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