Gas battle gets personal
“This has to stop,” said local filmmaker Josh Fox, whose highly publicized efforts to enhance awareness of the impacts of natural gas extraction have drawn the attention of detractors, increasing character attacks and escalating incidents of vandalism at his family property in Milanville.
While Fox’s award-winning film, “Gasland,” has earned support nationwide, it has gained some focused opposition closer to home, where leases have multiplied across areas overlying the Marcellus Shale. The Fox property lies within the heavily leased Wayne County.
Sometime late last year, an old trailer at the property on John Davis Road was torched. According to PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokesman Mark Carmon, DEP issued a Notice of Violation to Josh’s father, Michael, who owns the property, after receiving a complaint from the township related to the burning, only to learn eventually that the fire was set by someone other than the Fox family.
The fire was recently ruled arson, according to an investigation led by state police fire marshal trooper Russell Andress. “This is an ongoing criminal investigation,” said Andress. “The Fox family is listed as victims on my reports, and there is no evidence to suggest that they have any involvement in this crime.”
Meanwhile, an email communication later provided to The River Reporter was sent to members of the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance (NWPOA) from executive director Marian Schweighofer in which she crafts a “bedtime story” about the incidents related to the Fox property and calls Josh “Liar Fox.” The message contains attachments including a map of the Fox property, photos of the burned trailer and notices of violation from the township and DEP.
“We have been working on getting the facts for you,” Schweighofer wrote to fellow members of NWPOA. Part of that effort included obtaining those photos from Damascus Township Zoning and Code Enforcement Officer (CEO) Ed Lagarenne. “I don’t know how, but somebody from NWPOA found out about the photos and came in to request them,” he said. “They’re available to the public.”
Lagarenne, who said he took the photos, added, “You can see it from the road. I could see junk around. That gives me the right to enter the property if I see something that is a violation. I go after things like this all the time.”
Lagarenne also sent the photos to DEP “to clear the township.” “I call them on a fairly regular basis,” he said. “As a CEO, I’m obligated to report violations to DEP, FEMA, the state police.” No fines have been imposed yet.
The property is located in Damascus Township, where the supervisors, all of whom have signed leases for natural gas, recently removed the township’s representative to the Upper Delaware Council (UDC), Dolores Keesler, from that post. In January, Keesler was elected chair of the UDC, which last month approved a draft letter specifying its concerns about the upcoming Delaware River Basin Commission’s proposed regulations for natural gas development. The termination came without warning and township officials defended it by saying they did not believe Keesler represented the interests of all town members.
Fox also apparently has vocal detractors at the state level. In a guest column submitted to the Delaware County Daily Times, Fox wrote, “Teddy Borawski, chief oil and gas geologist for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and a member of Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration, compared my Sundance-award-winning and Oscar-nominated documentary film “Gasland” to Nazi propaganda, stating, ‘Goebbels would be proud.’
“My father and his parents were survivors of the Holocaust. We know what this kind of rhetoric can do. Since the release of “Gasland,” we have been subject to many kinds of attacks. Our family home has been vandalized several times. Windows have been broken while I have been away; property has been looted and articles have been set on fire. Hateful, despicable, demonizing speech can encourage the most vile impulses within people. To call my work ‘Nazi propaganda’ is to dehumanize me and those working on the issue.”
Fox is calling for an end to the incidents that he says could potentially lead to more serious acts of violence and he is willing to talk with any of his detractors face to face.
Anyone with information about the fire is asked to contact the state police fire marshal unit at 570/963-4292.