Occupy Riverdale erects blockade to save homes

Struggle vs. Aqua America/PVR

By Betsey Piette

Published Jun 18, 2012 8:59 PM
Occupy activists outside Agua America executive’s mansion in Ardmore, just outside Philadelphia.
WW photo: Joseph Piette

Dozens of residents of the Riverdale Mobile Home Park in Jersey Shore, Pa. — along with nearly 70 supporters, including Occupy Wall Street activists — set up a huge blockade on June 1 to keep Aqua America/Penn Virginia Resources from destroying what remains of their community. The company had planned to start construction of a water pumping facility that day.

With no advance notice to residents, the Aqua America/PVR consortium purchased the park in late March. The utility corporation planned to build a pumping facility on the site to withdraw 3 million gallons of fresh water daily from the adjacent Susquehanna River to sell to natural gas drillers for use in hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.

Aqua America/PVR has been actively lobbying on behalf of fracking extraction of natural gas. It is the second-largest, U.S.-based, publicly traded utility company. Aqua America’s CEO Nicholas DeBenedictis was a former head of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources as well as director of Exelon Energy, a major player in both nuclear energy and the natural gas industry.

Riverdale residents — members of a tightly knit working-class community — were ordered to leave by May 1. Aqua offered a $2,500 relocation “incentive,” even though the cost to move a mobile home ranges from $6,000 to $11,000. Under pressure, the company extended the deadline to June 1.

The giant utility corporation may have assumed that because most Riverdale residents were low-income and working class they would not have the funds to hire lawyers to fight the evictions. However, Aqua did not count on the resolve and resistance from these workers determined to fight to save their homes.

‘We shall not be moved!’

While most of the families that called Riverdale home had already moved, 11 families — including children — refused to be evicted after seeing the dislocation of about 26 families who have not yet been compensated for their expenses. The protesting families were quickly joined by former residents, people from Occupy Wall Street and anti-fracking activists from as far away as Massachusetts and Ohio.

Many questioned why an entire community had to be displaced for Aqua to build a single pumping station. Others raised opposition to the removal of massive quantities of river water, a public resource, for the profit of one corporation. Occupy Riverdale is taking on both of these concerns.

One resident, who drives a truck for the drilling industry, went on his CB radio to explain the situation to other frack truck drivers who pass the site at an estimated rate of one per 30 seconds.

When the residents’ original barricade signs were mowed down by the former owner of the site on June 7, activists replaced them with hand-painted message boards constructed from abandoned trailers. One sign read, “We are truck drivers, school bus drivers, pipe fitters, postal workers, mothers, veterans… .”

Direct appeal to the broader anti-fracking community as well as OWS has been carried out through Twitter, Flickr, Livestream media and other social networks. The RagingChickenPress, left/progressive media based in Kutztown, Pa., has provided day-by-day updates.

On June 5, Riverdale residents met with Aqua to negotiate the demand that the company allow them to remain in their homes. They are also demanding that the corporation adequately compensate displaced residents and acknowledge the right of return for those who left but want to come back.

Occupy Philly protesters gathered outside the mansion of Aqua CEO Debenedictis in Ardmore, Pa., on June 9. Signs were hung on the mansion gates, and demonstrators went door-to-door visiting DeBenedictis’ neighbors to explain why they were there.

Supporters are urged to call Aqua America’s corporate headquarters in Bryn Mawr, Pa., at 610-527-8000 to let them know that displacing Riverdale residents is unacceptable. For more information on Occupy Riverdale, visit saveriverdale.com.


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