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Energy company offers to extend Montour Trail

A Colorado-based energy company will build a 3-mile extension of the Montour Trail in Washington County in exchange for permission to build a railroad spur beside the trail to serve a facility that processes natural gas from Marcellus shale.

MarkWest Energy plans to restore the former Westland Branch of the defunct Montour Railroad through Cecil, Mt. Pleasant and Chartiers to connect a gas-processing facility outside Houston, Pa., to an active Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad line.

MarkWest will build a bicycle and pedestrian trail with a fence to separate it from the rebuilt rail line.

"It's been our goal to focus most of our efforts on completing the main line of the trail," said Gil McGurl, vice president of Montour Trail Council. "It would have been quite a long time before we got to extending a branch toward Westland."

No cost estimate was available Tuesday. Engineering details and deals with some property owners between the trail and processing facility are being worked out, MarkWest attorney Christopher Rimkus said.

The trail council bought the former railroad land in the early 1990s but hasn't made improvements to it. The spur will branch off from the existing trail near the intersection of Southview Road and Route 50 in Cecil, then run south and west parallel to Route 50, Hornhead Road and Johnson Road, ending just outside Westland, McGurl said.

MarkWest will lease the land for 30 years from the council. McGurl would not say how much the council would get annually, except that it would be in the "low six figures." The money would not be nearly enough to complete the mainline trail but could be set aside for long-term maintenance of existing trails and bridges, he said.

"From what I know, it's a heck of a deal," MarkWest spokesman Russ Moran said. The company processes raw gas from wells into usable natural gas and other products, such as methane and butane, that are shipped by truck.

"Rail delivery of these products ... is a whole lot safer than moving them in tanker trucks," McGurl said. "The plant's there, it's producing a lot of material, and putting this railroad in will provide a safety improvement. ... From our perspective, it's a win-win."

A public meeting to explain the project is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at Cecil Township Municipal Building on Millers Run Road.

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