LANCASTER, Pa. - First responders in Lancaster County preparing for protests related to the potential construction of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline attended a forum Thursday with leaders from North Dakota to learn how they dealt with the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline last year.
The forum was held behind closed doors as it was geared toward the first responders and their preparations for any potential civil unrest locally, but those who would take part in those protests demonstrated outside, saying they wanted a seat at the table to ensure safety between both sides.
Emergency management officials say learning from those who have been through an event, like they did from North Dakota officials who handled pipeline protest response, is always beneficial.
“We have to make sure that we're properly prepared no matter what the situation is to help them and we always want to do our best,” Duane Hagelgans, an emergency management professor at Millersville University, said. “We don't pick sides in emergency management. We're there to make sure that everybody is safe, everybody is prepared, and everybody stays healthy.”
State Senator Scott Martin (R-Lancaster County) hosted the forum, saying he does not want to see a repeat of what happened at Standing Rock. Martin says this is not about suppressing protest, but making sure it is done safely and efficiently.
“We will have a responsibility to keep our community safe locally and also do our best to avoid a situation where our local taxpayers are stuck with a $25 million price tag,” he said, citing the taxpayer cost of the protests.
Demonstrators with Lancaster Against Pipelines organized a rally outside. They were mostly people impacted by the proposed pipeline construction, and some put in a difficult financial position by the potential construction.
“We're not going to be able to live there during construction, so we have to make a decision about either getting an apartment, buying another home, carrying two mortgages, not something that I plan to do in my 60's,” Dr. Nancy Jeffries, who lives near the path of construction, said.
Protesters say they were upset they were not invited to take part in the forum since they are the ones who will be engaged in the protest and are concerned law enforcement could take things too far.
“We feel like the only the only path for that we have to resist this is just in the spirit of peaceful non-violent creative mass action, civil disobedience and so that's what we're committed to doing,” Mark Clatterbuck, the co-founder of Lancaster Against Pipelines, said.
The Atlantic Sunrise project was approved by the federal government earlier this year. It could begin active construction this summer, which is when the protests could begin on a larger scale.