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Agriculture and Environment

Jersey Shore Mobile Home Park Residents Fight to Stay Put

Deb Eck stands in front of her trailer at Riverdale Mobile Home Park on the outskirts of Jersey Shore. Across the park, other residents who can afford it have their mobile homes moved elsewhere.
Emily Reddy
/
WPSU

At the very back of the Riverdale Mobile Home Park, farthest from the busy road out front, Deb Eck stands in front of her trailer. It’s perched on a bank overlooking the Susquehanna River, a view she enjoys.

“I mean, who wouldn’t want to wake up to seeing this every day. You know?” Eck said.

But the river Eck loves is the very reason she’s now a trespasser in the place she’s lived for 10 years. In February, the mobile home park was bought by Aqua-PVR, a company which plans to pipe water from the river to Marcellus Shale drilling operations about 15 miles away. Aqua-PVR wants to build a water withdrawal facility here that will pull up to 3 million gallons of water a day from the river.

But first they’ll have to get Eck and her two daughters and six other families to leave. She says they don't have many options.

“Walk away. And hope and pray we can find someplace to rent," Eck said. "We’re not willing to do that. These are our homes. I paid good money for my trailer. I put a lot into it. And I’m low income. I can’t go out there and spend good money to rent a two-bedroom house or a two-bedroom apartment.”

The company hired a realtor to help residents find somewhere to move to and offered $2,500 to anyone who left before June 1.

A few months ago 32 families lived at Riverdale, now just seven remain. 

Eck and the other residents who remain say they have nowhere to go. Moving a trailer can cost anywhere from $5,000-$10,000, and that’s if they can find someplace to put it.

“Some of them won’t allow metal roof and metal siding,” Eck said. “You have to have like vinyl siding, shingle roof. Mine is metal roof and metal siding. It’s 76 foot long so not every park will take it because of its size.”

Not all mobile homes can even be moved. The owners of several trailers that were just too old to move have stripped them bare. The insulation is exposed where the siding has been pulled off the outside. Inside, residents have salvaged paneling, fixtures and appliances, leaving empty shells.

Families here who owned their homes paid just $200 a month in lot rental fees. Kevin June lives on disability payments and says he has nowhere to go. 

“The price of rent anywhere near a gas site is 3 or 4 times what it was before the gas industry came in,” June said. “So, I mean, it would take more for rent than I make on my SSI. I could sleep in a tent somewhere. Then what happens when the snow flies?”

Donna Alston is Manager of Communications for Aqua America, the parent company of part of Aqua-PVR. She says in addition to the cash incentive for residents to leave, the company redesigned the water pumping facility so its construction would disturb fewer lots and construction could start while residents were still moving out.

“Our intention was to offer help,” Alston said. “That’s why we offered $2,500. That’s why we went back and redesigned the footprint of our project. That’s why we never collected for water and sewer fees. Our intention was to help.”

And Aqua America hasn’t collected lot rents or utility payments since they bought the land in February. Alston she points out that most residents have found other options.

“We never said we were going to come in and give everybody everything they needed to move,” Alston said. “We wanted to help smooth the transition. And I believe we did that, as evidenced by the fact that the overwhelming majority of the people who lived there have been able to relocate.”

Alston says that – environmentally – this water facility is a good thing. The first phase of the pipeline replaced 2,000 water truck trips a day.

It helps communities relative to heavy volumes of traffic. It gets heavy trucks full of water off roads that weren’t made for it.

“People don’t realize, behind every wheel of every truck out here is a family,” Eric Daniels said. “It’s just not an oil company, there’s a family behind that wheel. “

Daniels drives one of those water trucks. He also used to live at the Riverdale Mobile Home Park. He’s been coming back in the mornings to salvage what he can from his trailer. He worries this water pumping station might cost him both his home and his job.

Daniels says the truckers that honk as they pass might be worried for their jobs like he is, but they’re also showing solidarity with the Riverdale residents.

“Even while we’re in the industry we all support communities,” Daniels said. “We would never support tearing down a community and taking people’s homes. This is not part of the industry. This is not what we represent.”

The residents have drawn another group of supporters as well – anti-fracking activists. Many of them, like Kelly Finan, are from other fracking areas. Finan is originally from Hop Bottom, which is just outside Dimock.

“Dimock being on the news the most popularly talked about spot when it comes to water contamination from hydrofracking,” Finan said. “So that’s very close to my heart. Ever since then I’ve sort of been keeping an eye on water issues regarding natural gas drilling.”

About 30 activists have, quite literally, set up camp here. Their tents sit where there were once mobile homes. They’ve made one of the abandoned trailers into their headquarters and another into a medic’s station. They’re talking about planting a flower garden.

The activists and residents have set up an unlikely partnership.

But on this particular afternoon, Deb Eck gathers the activists to give them some bad news.

“Um, when I first got involved with all of you guys, I didn’t know anything about hydraulic fracturing. I knew nothing. And um, you guys all came,” Eck said. “When I found out what hydraulic fracturing was all about, I realized I not only have to protect my home I have to protect that river too. And now I have to shift my focus back to just protecting my family.”

Lawyers who have stepped in to represent the residents met last week with Aqua-PVR’s lawyers. Eck and the other residents will find out today if their options have widened. Or narrowed. 

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