Pipeline company gets chilly reception
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Some residents of Westmoreland County aren't extending a neighborly welcome to a gas company and the 45-mile pipeline it wants to run through their properties.
Sunoco Logistics Partners LP met with 150 homeowners at North Huntingdon Town House last week for an informational meeting on a pipeline slated to pump more than 70,000 barrels of natural gas liquids from Houston, Washington County, to Delmont by the end of 2014.
The proposed line is the last leg of Sunoco's Mariner East Project, which will process and transport ethane and propane from Marcellus Shale in southwestern Pennsylvania to a port in Philadelphia for international and domestic sale.
This summer the company began sending letters to hundreds of residents along the pipeline's path -- from Washington County, through southern Allegheny County and into northern Westmoreland County -- to inform them that representatives were going to survey their land.
Sunoco representative Joe McGinn said the company selects a preliminary corridor much larger than the space the pipeline will require. Once surveys are complete, the company can determine the best path for the pipeline and begin contacting residents to negotiate a price for a 50-foot easement on their land. The pipeline will be 12 inches in diameter and be placed between 3 and 7 feet deep.
Some residents wrote back to the company and others contacted state Rep. George Dunbar, R-Penn Township, with their questions. After acting as the middle man between Sunoco and the citizens, Mr. Dunbar set up a meeting to allow them to speak directly.
"All I want is for my residents to understand what they can and can't do," Mr. Dunbar said. "I want to make sure they understand what's in front of them and what their rights are to make an educated decision."
In North Huntingdon, residents immediately questioned whether Sunoco could claim eminent domain along the pipeline's path -- a source of confusion and then frustration for many.
"Under what jurisdiction do you have the right to condemn my property to put your pipeline in?" asked Dominic Rossetti of North Huntingdon. "How do you get the right to do this? I don't want you on my property."
Jennifer Kocher, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Utility Commission, said Sunoco is registered as a common carrier in the state, similar to a utility company but without as many rights.
As a common carrier, the route of any of the company's pipelines can become eminent domain, but to invoke it the company would have to go before Common Pleas Court.
Sunoco has said it's rare for the company to seek eminent domain and that they try to reach a reasonable monetary agreement for an easement on the property first.
But the reassurance didn't do much to calm property owners, who fear a seesaw-like effect on their finances with their property values dropping and their insurance rates increasing because of the safety hazards associated with a high-pressure pipeline.
Mr. Dunbar said the concerns are natural.
"Anytime somebody is faced with something that can affect their personal property, they are going to be defensive," he said.
The representative, who expressed frustration that eminent domain never came up in his conversations with Sunoco before the meeting, said, in many cases, the company won't have to negotiate with the homeowner at all. He believes much of the proposed plan lies along utility rights-of-way and the company will need to gain approval from the municipalities to use those easements.
First Published October 18, 2012 4:36 am