Pennsylvanians campaign against nuclear-related Delaware River pump (Dump the Pump), USA, 1982-1988

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Timing
Time Period:  
January
1982
to
April
1988
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Goals: 
Activists worked to stop the construction of a water-diversion pipeline.
 

In February of 1981, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) unanimously approved the construction of a $42 million dollar water pump. The proposal claimed the pipeline would bring much-needed water to Montgomery County and areas of Bucks County. Its other purpose would be to funnel half of the 95-million-gallon-a-day flow to cooling the Pennsylvania Electric Company’s new nuclear plant in nearby Limerick. The announcement sparked off a wave of complaints and organization among local citizens. National environmental groups had been working for years to end the project since it was announced in 1967, but residents’ creation of Del-AWARE Unlimited Inc. after the announcement in 1981 focused pressure on pro-pump officials to reconsider the project’s viability and, for nearly a decade, made civil disobedience a part of daily life in suburban Pennsylvania.

Del-AWARE drew its constituency from a diverse group composed of Bucks County landowners of all political ideologies, fisherman concerned about the pipeline’s impact on local waters, as well as anti-nuclear activists wishing to prevent the construction of PE’s new nuclear plant. The Pennsylvania Electric Company, the project’s sponsor, hit its first obstacle in September of 1981 when the nearby Plumstead County Board of Supervisors voted to block building permits for the project until they could be sure how much damage it would cause to local wells and property. Later that month, 700 Del-AWARE members and allies flooded the Army Corps of Engineers hearing at Bucks County Community College, where the Corps would decide whether or not to issue construction permits for the pipeline. James Florio, a South Jersey Democrat and Del-AWARE ally, pressured the Corps and local officials to have a public hearing on the proposal, something not required by the Corps’ rules of operation.

While a decision was expected in December, the Corps delayed its ruling until the end of the next fall. In the meantime, Del-AWARE continued to organize protests, including the blockage of a PE contractor’s backhoe to the future construction site of the Point Pleasant pumping station for water flow testing. Aside from protests, Del-AWARE began circulating a petition against the proposal. Representative Pat Coyne, though still claiming a neutral stance on the subject, signed the petition “under pressure from both sides.” The DRBC rejected the petition and, by October, both the Bucks County Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers had given their support to the project.

Shortly thereafter, however, Del-AWARE and allies filed an injunction with the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia against the Neshaminy Water Resources Authority (NWRA), PE, and the project’s continuation. U.S. district judge James T. Giles denied the injunction in December, contending that the potential benefits of the project far outweighed cultural and environmental impacts. In January, as construction began, Del-AWARE, with the help of famed organizer Abbie Hoffman, mobilized hundreds of supporters for a rally along River Road featuring folk singer Pete Seeger, anti-Pump clowns and multiple “Dump the Pump” signs and banners reproaching the project. Even a plane flew over carrying the “Dump the Pump” banner. The NWRA had previously filed an injunction with Bucks County courts to have the protesters removed, but it was rejected. Also in January, Del-AWARE president Colleen Wells and chairman Val Sigstedt, along with allied U.S. Representative Peter Kostmayer received anonymous threats from supporters of the project, which the FBI failed to investigate despite Del-AWARE’s requests.

In the March of 1983, citizens and allies old and new continued to fight the project, this time circulating a petition for a referendum asking voters whether or not they supported the project’s continuation. Petitioners successfully gathered enough signatures from area voters and collected statements of support from various Bucks County communities to endorse the question. In May’s Democratic Party primary, 56% of voters voiced opposition to the project, passing the non-binding referendum and sending a clear message to the county’s Republican officials. In November of that year, as the result of mounting pressure from anti-pipeline activists, those officials—or at least those who supported the project—would find their seats threatened by Del-AWARE members and allies vying for their positions. Sentiment in the county, if contemporary media is an accurate marker, had turned against the pump. Anti-pipeline Democrats swept the November elections and in turn took over not only the Bucks County commission, but also the NWRA, up to that point one of the project’s major supporters. Following the Democrats’ swearing in, the state Department of Environmental Resources (DER)—a long-time supporter of the project—warned Commissioners not to “misuse” the DER in making its case.

Eventually, however, developers continued construction. In February of 1984, a judge permitted “limited operations” to continue. Protests and acts of civil disobedience continued well into the late 1980s. Del-AWARE and supporters consistently occupied constructions sites, often with hundreds of people on hand. Sit-ins at the Bucks and Montgomery County courthouses and on site disrupted operations, and a four-year legal battle between Del-AWARE lawyers and pipeline developers slowed down construction, frequently halting operations until PE lawyers managed to have them overturned. Volunteers worked in shifts to constantly monitor the construction process, carefully looking out for the most minor of building code violations that could be brought to court and further slow the project’s progression. A Montgomery county tree surgeon embarked on what would become a 53-day hunger strike to voice his opposition to the project, a tactic he had used earlier in his life to win release from prison. Del-AWARE, along with their $1-a-year staff organizer Abbie Hoffman organized a “Democracy Summer,” a media blitz where volunteers reached out to groups, individuals (including Amy Carter, daughter of former President Jimmy Carter), and the American public to bring attention to their cause.

In January of 1985, the Cahill Report, published by an environmental group commissioned by the now-Democratic NWRA, called into question the project’s legitimacy. The Pennsylvania Electric Company’s rationale for building the project 18 years earlier had been based largely on the prediction that Bucks and Montgomery Counties would experience population spikes. By 1984, this had failed to happen. The 72-page study claimed that existing water supplies would be adequate to support growth in the county until the year 2000. Just as the study was released, however, a Bucks County judge ruled that the NWRA and county had contractual obligations to begin construction.

The state’s Department of Environmental Resources then extended four permits in June for certain areas of the pump’s construction, but also stated that PE could not begin construction on those parts until an independent study on the project was completed in September. Also in the summer of 1987, under court order, construction began on the pump station, which was not effected by June’s ruling. Lawyers later put a stop to construction with another ban in October.

In February of 1988, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court lifted the ban and allowed construction to continue once and for all. That April, following years of action and organizing, Del-AWARE leaders announced publicly that they would put an end to five years of protests at pump construction sites and focus its attention on drawing attention to problems with the pump. While the pump was eventually built and completed, the Dump the Pump campaign introduced a small suburban community to a radically different means of taking power and making their voices heard.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Campbell, Douglas A. "Main Group of Pump Opponents Says it's Halting Protests At Site." Philadelphia Inquirer 06 Apr 1988. n. pag. Web. 27 Sep. 2011. <http://articles.philly.com/1988-04-06/news/26252417_1_del-aware-unlimited-del-aware-chairman-richard-myers-del-aware-executive-director>.

Clark, Kathryn F. "Delaware River pump site protest peaceful." Beaver County Times 09 Jan 1983. 5. Print.

"Court approves building pumping station." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 04 Feb 1988. 62. Print.

Doan, Moses. "Abbie Hoffman." Bucks County History. 13 Apr 2011. Web. 28 Sep. 2011. <http://mosesdoan.wordpress.com/tag/dump-the-pump/>.

Hilferty, John. "Bucks Board Moves to Halt Pump Project." Philadelphia Inquirer 19 Nov 1983. Final A01. Print.

Infield, Tom. "Judge Permits Limited Operations at Point Pleasant to Protect Site." Philadelphia Inquirer 17 Feb 1984. Final B03. Print.

Marcovitz, Hal. "Point Plesasant Pump Nears Completion Plans Were Drawn 20 Years Ago." Morning Call 27 Dec 1988. n. pag. Web. 27 Sep. 2011. <http://articles.mcall.com/1988-12-27/news/2658271_1_water-supply-project-pump-bucks-county>.

"Pennsylvania Head Delays Pump Project On Delaware River." New York Times 28 Jun 1987. n. pag. Web. 23 Sep. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/1987/06/28/us/pennsylvania-head-delays-pump-project-on-delaware-river.html>.

"Point Pleasant pump not needed, study says." Reading Eagle 12 Jan 1985. 11. Print.

"Point Pleasant Referendum Will Define Bucks' Future." Philadelphia Inquirer 27 Mar 1983. Final A08. Print.

"Water diversion foes worried about threats." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 20 Jan 1983. 1. Print.

Additional Notes: 
Though Abbie Hoffman played a sizable role in the campaign as an adviser, the bulk of the organizing was done by local residents, many of whom had been working on the pipeline issue in some capacity for years before Del-AWARE's creation and ensuing campaigns.

Additionally, this case represents a mixture of both NVDA tactics as well as legal and legislative maneuvering (i.e, anti-pipeline Democrats being elected to key offices as popular opinion turned against the pipeline.)

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Kate Aronoff, 25/09/2011