Farmer released from jail after confronting workers over mine discharge by Don Hopey, December 18, 2012, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
UNIONTOWN, Pa. — A still-indignant 73-year-old cattle farmer walked out of the Fayette County Jail on Monday morning after serving a four-day contempt-of-court sentence for confronting natural gas pipeline company employees who he said were pumping acidic mine water onto his pasture for a second time. Joe Bezjak, a retired school teacher and principal at Point Marion Junior High School who runs 200 head of Black Angus beef cattle on his 700-acre farm near New Geneva, said the jail guards and inmates treated him much better than the pipeline company, Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream Partners. “The pipeline people are totally unethical in every aspect,” Mr. Bezjak said just outside the jail and courthouse. “They try to be your friend when they want to get a lease, but after that they start taking advantage of you. I’m fed up, you can tell. It’s been lie after lie after lie.” … Mr. Bezjak was sent to jail Friday by Fayette County Common Pleas Judge Nancy Vernon after he violated a September court order that he not have contact with employees of the company. Judge Vernon issued the September restraining order after Mr. Bezjak said he caught workers pumping abandoned mine drainage out of the pipeline trench and onto his pasture earlier this year and confronted them while he was sitting on his quad, which has a .22-caliber rifle mounted on it. Mr. Bezjak said he never threatened anyone with the gun, but pipeline workers say he did. “I got upset and was arguing with them,” he said. “I was angry because I saw what I’d worked for my whole life being damaged by these people who lied to me. So I stopped them, and by 10 a.m. there were three state police troopers in my driveway and I was handcuffed.” … In November, while he was spreading manure in his fields, he said, he saw the workers pumping mine water into his fields again, yelled at them to stop and get off his property and called the state Department of Environmental Protection to report the problem. He was subsequently ordered to appear Friday before the judge, who imposed the jail sentence. After investigating Mr. Bezjak’s complaint, the DEP issued a notice of violation to Williams two weeks ago for dumping acidic mine water pumped out of its pipeline construction area onto the pasture land. Ms. Gentz’s statement said the company has a permit that allows it to pump water out of its pipeline trench but was “unaware” that it contained “acid mine discharge.”
Fayette County farmer spends weekend in jail by Josh Krysak, December 18, 2012, Herald-Standard
“I was told by Judge (Nancy D.) Vernon that I wasn’t allowed to speak to them, even though they were working on my property and even though I saw them doing things that were wrong. I talked to them, so I went to jail,” Bezjak said after he was released from Fayette County Prison at 9 a.m. Monday. Bezjak, who worked as an educator in Fayette County for nearly four decades, said that his problems with Laurel Mountain Midstream of Williams Companies LLC began in the spring when he signed a contract with them to allow a pipeline to be placed on his 700-acre farm. Initially, he said, the company appeared to be working hand-in-hand with him, having Bezjak review plans for the pipeline and working in conjunction with his needs for his cattle farm. But that cooperation quickly dissipated, Bezjak said. “At first, they send someone into befriend you and then they take advantage of you… I run 200 head of black Angus cattle,” Bezjak said, fighting back tears. “This has been a passion of mine,” he said, noting that he began his farm with just three cows and built his entire herd from breeding. He went on to say that once the pipeline crews came onto his property, they took down part of his fence without informing him, and then, over the coming months, tore down other sections of fence and put the pipeline across his land, causing issues for his cattle to move from one area of the farm to another. He said that as a result, several of his calves and one cow died. Peaceful confrontations between the pipeline crews and Bezjak continued, he said, as he grew angrier at the company that he felt was running roughshod over his farmland.
The matter eventually went before a Fayette County Judge Steve P. Leskinen, who ordered the company to install a fence where the existing one had been removed. However, as the company and Bezjak went back and forth about the fence and other issues, Vernon also ordered Bezjak to not speak to the workers on his property. Bezjak said he tried to follow that order and was busy contacting the state Department of Environmental Protection for other possible violations when he realized recently that the company was pumping sulfur water onto his property. At that point, Bezjak told the men to leave his property. “I was fed up. It is lie, after lie, after lie… I couldn’t stop myself from getting involved,” he said. “That is my property and I am an environmentalist. I am not against drilling but I do believe in being a good steward of the land.” On Friday, Bezjak said he was due in court for a hearing regarding the ongoing dispute. He said that he brought in money to go Christmas shopping after the hearing, and that prior to going to court, he dropped off a neighbor and friend at Uniontown Hospital for chemotherapy, telling him that he would be back to pick him up. Instead, he said, he was placed in handcuffs and hauled to jail. Another family friend, David Headley of Smithfield, was able to pick up the man at the hospital and take him home. Headley was among a few people who gathered outside the prison to await Bezjak’s release and protest his imprisonment. … “I did learn what amen means while I was in jail. I was reading the Bible and it is a Jewish term that means whatever was said here is true and honest. I say amen here today, because my story is true,” Bezjak said.
DEP stands for Don’t Expect Protection, Fayette County farmer spends weekend in jail by Josh Krysak, December 17, 2012, Herald Standard
Joe Bezjak said when he traveled to Uniontown Friday for a hearing regarding an apparent violation of a court order, he never expected to go to jail. But that is exactly where the 73-year-old Nicholson Township man spent the weekend, all for speaking to employees of a gas pipeline company working on Bezjak’s own farm against the court’s direction. “I was told by Judge (Nancy D.) Vernon that I wasn’t allowed to speak to them, even though they were working on my property and even though I saw them doing things that were wrong. I talked to them, so I went to jail,” Bezjak said this morning, after he was released from Fayette County Prison at 9 a.m. Bezjak, who worked as an educator in Fayette County for nearly four decades, said that his problems with Laurel Mountain Midstream of Williams Companies LLC began in the spring when he signed a contract with them to allow a pipeline to be placed on his 700-acre farm.
Farmer jailed for defending his property by Shale Reporter, December 17, 2012
The Headley and Bezjak families say are regretting their decisions to allow a new natural gas pipeline to cross their properties. David Headley and his wife, Diane, own a 115-acre farm on Volick Road. They sold the right-of-way for an existing gas line, but they hadn’t bargained for another gas line that is planned for their property. When the pipeline’s pathway poised to cross Georges Creek, Headley contacted the state Department of Environmental Protection after drilling left a bentonite spill. Joe Bezjak of Smithfield-New Geneva Road said his herd of about 180 head of black Angus cattle was harmed after gas drillers tore down a fence that separated the two herds. Without the fence, the cattle inter-breeded. “That ruined the herd — more than 40 years worth of work down the drain,” Bezjak said. “They practically ruined my entire breeding stock.” The pipeline is owned and operated by Williams Laurel Mountain Midstream, which has its regional headquarters in Moon Township and its corporate headquarters in Tulsa, Okla. The new pipeline’s fate is far from certain.” Update: Joe Bezjak was arrested on Friday and thrown in Fayette County jail over the weekend after he caught Williams Mountain Midstream workers dumping mine water on his cow pasture and confronted them. That’s right, the property owner being wronged was the one arrested while those doing the illegal dumping walked free. Justice in Corporate America.
Joe Bezjak, 76 yr. old jailed for kicking oilfield workers off his property for illegally dumping waste fluid a second time, Fayette County, PA by friends of Joe, December 16, 2012, marcellus protest
Sometime this week, Joe Bezjak, 76 yr. old, was jailed for trying to keep Williams Mid Mountain workers from dumping waste fluid onto his farm. Judge Nancy Vernon, of Fayette County’s Court of Common Pleas, ordered Joe to be jailed for breaking a court order which forbid him from disturbing pipe line workers on his own property. Bezjak was not allowed any bail, nor was he allowed any visitors, including his wife. Joe is on medication for a heart condition and was not allowed his meds. This goes beyond the fracking issue, this is about human rights, civil rights, property rights.
Earlier this year Joe caught Williams Mountain Midstream workers dumping mine water on his property. He had pictures and everything. He threw them off his property. Got taken to court. Court order slapped on Joe by Judge Nancy Vernon. Judge didn’t care about his story or his pictures. He was told to leave the workers alone, with court order to that effect slapped on him. DEP was contacted and DEP issued a violation because of the dumping incident. So when the workers recently showed up again and started doing the same thing – dumping mine water on his cow pasture – he asked the workers to leave…until DEP approved a plan of remediation. (There are cattle grazing in the affected field, the stream is also impacted.) They go to authorities. Joe’s declared in violation of court order – contempt of court – by Judge Nancy Vernon. Vernon sends him immediately to jail, where he is currently being held, without bail, without visitors, and without his medications. He is 76 years old. [Emphasis added]