In the Way of Aqua America? You Ain’t Nothing But Disposable

The attached set of pictures may not be the most exciting. Guards. Trucks. Chain link fences. Razor wire. A move of a mobile home. It doesn’t document a police raid. It’s not an occupy encampment. The colors are either harsh or flat except for the trees permitted to remain only because they help conceal Aqua America’s demolition site–well, what was a community. No charming photographs of smiling children with paint-smeared hands. No building of outdoor ovens by a community of young skilled activists. No music. No beautiful smell of cooking food. No inspiring American flags in the glow of firelight.

But this is still Riverdale.

Human beings and their families still live here.

These are, for me, the most important set of pictures so far because they document the expulsion of a person–and American Citizen–from her home–and they will allow me to tell the story of one of the most courageous women I have met in a while.

Life at Riverdale–former mobile home park–in the midst the demolition of their neighbor’s homes: listening to the sounds of trucks all day. Sleeping under the glare of surveillance lighting all night. Watching your neighbor’s homes crushed under a bulldozer’s maw. Chatting with the DEP agent–the one who didn’t know there were still folks living in the park until a pain-in-the-ass activist called him and told him. Imagine getting to wonder what the hell he’s doing in there.

All this–and the perhaps remote, but DEP investigation-worthy possibility of exposure to Asbestos.

Department of Environmental Protection agents are investigating the possibility that the residents (not to mention the workers and the security guards–and those of us still taking pictures) have been exposed to asbestos because it remains unclear whether or not Aqua America conducted a survey to determine whether any of the older trailers may have asbestos in their insulation. Indeed, Aqua America could not have conducted any such complete survey because people are still living in the park. Indeed, people were living in the park on June 13th at 7 AM when the demolition crews came through the now chain link gates. And they were there when the demolitions got underway…and they have been there every day since.

To be very very clear: I don’t know whether any exposure to Asbestos occurred (or that there was any such thing to be exposed to). But I know that Aqua America was supposed to make sure no such thing could occur. And I know they could not possibly have fulfilled this moral and legal obligation with people still living in their homes in the park. Not and begin demolition at 7AM–the morning after the raid. And DEP knows it too. I imagine that’s why they are calling for Aqua America’s contracted company Alan K. Meyers to take “corrective action.” You know, Alan K. Meyers–the big poster with the little girl in the yellow hard hat talking to her daddy about safety–the one plastered right next to the gate at Riverdale. Sheesh!

Corrective action: No more demolitions until the remaining residents are out of the park.

Seems a bit late.

Seems like an acknowledgement that this stuff should have been done before any demolitions took place–but, damnit-all-to-hell, THAT would have required waiting until all the residents were out of the park OR until the local sheriff had had them dragged out.

Asbestos. Mesothelioma. Lung Cancer. Develops years later. Hard to trace back to the exposure. So–what’s to worry Nicholas DeBenedictus’ pretty little head? Economically vulnerable people don’t sue. That little girl in the big poster lives in a nice middle class house–one that’s protected from Asbestos exposure, and razor wire, and huge transmission line trenches, and bulldozers, and surveillance lighting, and the possibility that you could be forced out of your home by the state police.

More of this as I patiently await the DEP report. And they’re not a very forthcoming bunch.

Back to my story of fracking refugees.

These pictures document what I think is one of the most important, even if not among the most glamorous, days in this corporate sponsored comic-tragedy of human rights violations–the expulsion of one of the primary leaders and undisputed conscience of the resistance, Debra Eck. If you’ve been following these blog posts, you’ve seen her picture many times–always engaged in the work of keeping as much of the community together as she could, a community that included not only residents, but for twelve tremendous days, activists from all over the U.S. congregated to defend the park. And she did this while working twelve hour shifts, taking care of her twin girls, and holding together her own house.

Deb had sworn that she was not leaving the park. She owns her mobile home. She felt safe and secure there–a good place for her kids. But when the day came of the police raid that ended the invited occupation, it ended because Deb Eck asked us to stand down–for OUR sakes. So we wouldn’t face arrest. Even though she knew that we were the only real obstacle between the sanctity of her home and a corporation who cares so little for human life and welfare that they had their demolition crews in hours after the raid. Potential Asbestos exposure be damned. Then again–this is Aqua America who stands to makes piles of money as a clean water profiteer marketing a more and more a precious commodity in the foul smelling wake left by the removal and contamination of water for fracking conducted by….Aqua America…You’ve almost gotta admire the sheer diabolical genius of this gambit–except that its genocidal.

The day Deb is finally forced to leave Riverdale–July 7th, about 6:30 AM, she’s been up all night trying to pack up her and her kid’s belongings with the help only of a few family members–when they don’t have to work. No one else is permitted save under threat of arrest for criminal trespass in the park. In fact, even family members have been harassed and stopped. There’s nothing to call this but a police state–a corporate sponsored police state. And we should all be shivering in our boots if we take even a half a second to contemplate what this means: When corporations can command this kind of power–the power to post armed guards who can execute a border control restricting the movements of the very bodies of people living in their imprisoned estate–when a corporation can tell you who can visit your home, who can help you move out your refrigerator, who can talk with you while you pack up boxes–that corporation is essentially a government–or better, a fascist regime.

I have been arguing for some time that the Corbett administration is fully owned and operated by fracking interests. But I’d like to correct that now: there is no “Corbett administration.” What there is is a state nominally called “Pennsylvania” (or PA, Inc. for short) which functions as a subsidiary of a conglomerate of natural gas interests, and whose citizens (also a nominal term since it designates neither rights nor responsibilities) are fully subject to whatever strategies are necessary to realize those interests. Mobile home parks by rivers that could be utilized to deliver water to frack pads are in the way. So, their occupants have to go. As Terry Engelder–the first Frack Daddy might put it–Deb Eck and all of the other 32 families of Riverdale occupy a “sacrifice zone.” They are, in other words, disposable.

And that is what describes this day. Except that Deb Eck refuses to be disposable. Working tirelessly, incredulously, Deb Eck directs the moving of her mobile home with the same dignity she evinces on every other awful day of this awful series of injustices. She makes jokes about her work attire. She asks me how I am (bleary–flabbergasted). She watches as her home heaves and lurches angling its way through the gate–a gate where I have spent some of the most important moments of my recent life. Funny though….It was one thing to sit at that gate taking pictures of cheery fires and singing college kids milling about in front of the Hands Across Riverdale barricades. It’s quite another to be facing off security guards who busy themselves protecting Aqua America’s prerogative to destroy land, air, and water.

The mobile home finally squeezes through a gate clearly not intended for really big things–like HOUSES.

Deb has to get to work–on this of all days. I follow her house to its new digs–in a new school district, down a frack truck route (I counted at least 2o frack rigs each coming and going)… presumably sharing the two lane highway once Fall arrives with school buses.

When you’re in the way of Aqua America, you’re in the way. And for whatever their bullshit hype about how they’re a corporation who cares, if you’re in the way of their profit-making venture, you’re disposable. Anyone who’d commodify a necessary condition of life–water–can’t be expected to care about anything beyond profits–and more profits.

But it’s even worse than this. Aqua America hasn’t just made Deb Eck’s move incredibly difficult–they have clearly sought to punish her for daring to resist eviction. Punish. Her. By not allowing her any assistance other than her family (say, her twin 10 year olds to lift the family refrigerator), and by harassing even them, Aqua America transforms itself from the “merely” dictatorial to the positively cruel and vindictive–but with a purpose: Aqua America would make of Deb Eck an example. Dare to resist an associate member of the Frack-Daddy Club? Then get ready. Cuz you’re gonna get fucked (or fracked). You ain’t nothin’ but disposable, and we are god-damned if we’re not gonna show you. And your irritating activist friends too.

We shouldn’t be surprised, of course, by any of this. It’s just capitalism working its magic. For Aqua America, it’s just good business. The trouble is that if you’re willing to commodify water, you probably don’t care all that much about air quality either. After all, maybe we can find a way to bottle that too–at least for the folks who matter, the ones who can afford to live.

The pictures:


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1 Comment on In the Way of Aqua America? You Ain’t Nothing But Disposable

  1. Letter to Dave Thompson of the Williamsport Sun-gazette, 7.10.12:

    Hi Dave,

    Please forgive me for being a pain in your rear–but there has been what I think an important development concerning the DEP investigation into whether an asbestos survey was conducted prior to demolition at Riverdale (a survey that COULD not have been completed until after all of the residents had vacated the park since other than a cursory on-line/records check of make, year, and model of remaining mobile homes, Alan K. Meyer’s–the subcontracting demolition company–could not have made that determination–they could not have been IN homes that people own. So unless that online/records check is all that’s required (and that all by itself would be very disturbing–this is ASBESTOS–a serious carcinogen), Aqua America/PVR cannot have NOT violated PA law regarding (a) the survey required by law, and (b) IF they found evidence of Asbestos, removing it according to that law. Demolition began the morning of June 13th–right after the police raid–and hence there was no time to have conducted even an incomplete survey of the park. Moreover, while I have been in regular communication with the agent responsible for the actual on the ground investigation on three separate occasions, when another concerned journalist (from Shale Reporter) contacted that same office, the office denied my ever having called–and I don’t ever do anything anonymously. They claimed that two permits had been issued to AA/PVR–and that as far as the DEP was concerned, AA/PVR “had all of their ducks in a row.”

    THIS does NOT comport with the fact that there was an investigation and that–most importantly–I was specifically told that Alan K. Meyers was instructed to take “corrective action,” AKA: No more demolitions until AFTER everyone was out of the park (and this is not true even this morning.) Corrective action, of course, does not address any of my original concern–whether residents, demolition and construction workers, and the security guards may have been exposed to asbestos. To be very clear–I am NOT suggesting that there was asbestos in the park. What I am saying is that AA/PVR did NOT determine with certainly that there wasn’t–and this is REQUIRED by PA law for this hazardous carcinogen. It is NOT wild or unlikely speculation to suggest that asbestos could have been present in the insulation of some of the older trailers. And that the subcontractor was instructed to take “corrective action” implies that there was in fact a violation.

    So, why is DEP denying that I called? This implies that they are hiding something.

    Why not just tell the Shale Reporter journalist precisely what they told me? namely, that there WAS an investigation that put a DEP agent IN the park on at least three occasions?

    Why, when the Shale Reporter journalist called back a second time, was she referred to Dan Spandoni–the media agent, and the investigative agent was no longer permitted to speak with her? (this occurred this morning)

    Why was an agent sent into the park –at least three times–if all that was required by law was a cursory search of make/year/model of mobile home?

    Why, since there potentially has been a violation of PA law requiring this survey, is DEP requiring only “corrective action”?

    Something is wrong here Dave–and potential exposure to asbestos is not a trivial thing.

    Consider: IF the agreement the residents are being pressured (and by their OWN lawyers) to sign includes a nondisclosure clause–and we all know it will, and if this includes a clause that stipulates the residents can never sue AA/PVR on any grounds (and we all know it will), then the residents could not sue AA/PVR on the grounds they were exposed to asbestos–even if they were, could show it on reasonable evidence, and were sick with something like Mesothelioma.

    That is a tragedy. And it is also a worthy subject for a good reporter. Dave–these people are being treated like garbage to be thrown away. But these are PEOPLE.

    *And there’s this: When I spoke to the DEP agent at the Williamsport DEP office for air-quality control–Aaron–he did NOT know that there were ANY people still living in the park. Think about that: DEP did NOT know there were people in that park–living there–when the demolitions began.

    Wendy Lynne Lee

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