WEST GOSHEN >> Although construction of Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 2 Pipeline is underway, hundreds of residents continue to oppose the project.
Two West Goshen residents and six Middletown Township, Delaware County, residents have field separate lawsuits in Commonwealth Court to uphold zoning regulations in a bid to halt construction of ongoing work and additional pipeline construction in the future.
Construction of the 350-mile long Sunoco Mariner East 2 pipeline is underway in Chester and Delaware counties. When completed, the company says it will transport more than 350,000 barrels of ethane, butane and propane from the state’s Marcellus Shale region to the former refinery in Marcus Hook, mostly for shipment overseas.
Mark Freed, an attorney with Curtin Heefner LLP, is representing West Goshen residents. Freed pointed to a three-part 2014 township ordinance.
He claims that the township-created ordinance makes it illegal for pipelines to pass through residential neighborhoods, which Sunoco plans to do.
He also said that even where pipelines are allowed, conditional use approval from the board of supervisors is required.
Sunoco plans call for construction in “blast zones,” Freed said, claiming that structures housing people are located closer to proposed pipelines than allowed by township law.
Eric Friedman is the spokesperson for the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety.
“All the residents are asking for is that Middletown’s ordinances be enforced,” Friedman said.
Friedman said that existing ordinances call for a 75-foot setback from occupied structures, while Sunoco plans call for the pipeline to run much closer to households, churches and schools.
Plans call for the pipeline to carry ethane, as well as butane and propane. All three are liquids that turn to a colorless, odorless gas that stays low to the ground when exposed to the air.
Residents are told to run upwind for a half mile in case of a leak and that a cell phone, car engine or doorbell could set off an explosion.
Tom Casey is a plaintiff in the West Goshen lawsuit. He’s fought the pipeline project since he first heard about it.
“Sunoco believes they exempt from local zoning – they don’t have to follow it,” Casey said. “(By suing) I’m doing what the township should be doing for its residents.”
Sunoco Logistics has acknowledged residents’ concerns, but insists that construction meets all zoning regulations and that safety standards in both construction and ongoing maintenance of the pipeline are of the highest industry standard.
Casey, a losing candidate for supervisor in the May primary, cited 2014 township ordinances.
“We have a zoning ordinance that was designed to protect this township,” he said. “It’s a law. They must follow it like you or I must follow the laws. Sunoco must play by the rules, they’re not exempt.”
Elaine McLaughlin owns a home in East Goshen and runs a business in West Goshen. Both are impacted by the planned pipeline.
She said that a Sunoco representative told her that the pipeline near her home will snake beneath the roadway. After viewing ongoing construction, she worries about preserving 26 trees in her backyard.
“I’m frustrated, angry and disappointed,” she said about East Goshen Township’s role. “It looks like a war zone.”
McLaughlin, and many others, including Casey, are not just fighting current construction but the possibility that other pipelines will run through Chester County.
Chester County hosts the third most number of pipelines on a pathway to the refinery in Marcus Hook.
Casey LaLonde, West Goshen Township manager said that the township continues to pursue the matter with the state Public Utilities Commission, with a special township counselor attending every recent board of supervisors meeting.
Several residents have met with West Chester Area School District Superintendent Dr. James Scanlon. Three WCASD schools are located within the blast zone, the area that could be affected in the event of a leak and subsequent explosion.
Scanlon said the school district is scheduling a regular annual meeting with police to discuss evacuation strategies.
“We’re putting a plan in place,” Scanlon said. “We’re taking our lead from Emergency Management Services.”
Scanlon said that in case of a leak, students would either stay put, evacuate to another area or a combination of both.
“We have been reviewing our safety protocol in the event of a gas leak during the school day,” he said. “The scope of our planning extends well beyond what the school district can do and will need to involve emergency responders in the process.”