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Man in tent hungers for settlement from Consol

| Wednesday, June 25, 2003

"Nice tent," I say as introduction to Brandon Hudock.

He is on his back inside the children's tent reading, a straw hat on his head. Seemingly eager for the company, he emerges from his stifling, cramped quarters.

"I got it at Kmart," he says. "Cost about $19.95."

Traffic whizzes by us along Route 19 across from South Hills Village. This is no campground. This is a grassy, suburban knoll at a bustling intersection in front of Consol Energy headquarters.

Tents look out of place here.

Which is precisely the reason why Hudock, 27, of North Strabane, Washington County, chose this location to draw attention to his family's dispute with Consol.

The Hudocks say their Hothouse Floral Co. business and adjoining 25 acres were damaged by Consol's mining activities in 1998. Consol offered the family a $450,000 settlement -- an amount the state Department of Environmental Protection endorses as fair but the Hudocks find insufficient. They claim damages of about $2 million.

In April, Brandon Hudock petitioned Consol directly. He drove a Hothouse Floral van bearing the banner "Consol, Please Give Us Back Our Lives" around the company parking lot. For his trouble, he was arrested for trespassing and was fined $300.

Another approach was needed. Hudock decided on a public hunger strike. The protest was to be an around-the-clock activity -- and for nearly an entire day it was.

"The first night I was out here, there was a police chase, helicopters overhead, all types of noise from the traffic," he says, explaining why he now packs up and goes home every day about 6 p.m. He arrives about 9 a.m. each day.

Hudock swears he hasn't had a meal since last Thursday.

"I've even turned down the people who have shown up and offered me gum," he says. "I'm sticking to water. Just water."

Not that it's easy. His fast, like any other, would be much less difficult were it not for the considerable role that appetite plays in such matters.

"My dad went and got pizza last night," Hudock says. "I think he was trying to get me to eat. My parents agree with my convictions, but they don't agree with the hunger strike."

They might have more objections to Hudock's current preoccupation than Consol.

"We acknowledge his right to protest," company spokesman Tom Hoffman says. "He isn't interfering with our day-to-day business, and he's not technically on our property, so we have elected not to do anything."

Hudock elects to bide his time in the tent's hot confines -- making cell phone calls, talking to occasional passersby and reading the Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia.

As Hudock reveals he is perusing Volume 10 -- Euth to Fran -- a Jones Moving Co. truck slows as it passes along Route 19. The horn honks. "Peace, brother!" a burly man shouts from the passenger seat. Hudock smiles broadly and waves.

Hudock insists he will starve himself and stay in the tent for as long as it takes.

At least on weekdays.

"I'm just not sure about doing this on the weekends," he says. "I don't know if I want to do this until I potentially compromise my health."

Sounds as though Hudock's commitment is wavering, and after nearly a week without food who can blame him?

Still, it would be a shame if he were forced to admit he was wrong about his willingness to fight indefinitely.

They might crave an eclair or yearn for a cheeseburger, but the last thing those on hunger strikes want to eat are their words.

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