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Pipeline request for right-of-way on Penn property on hold

| Wednesday, May 22, 2013, 7:45 p.m.

A one-time $1,550 payment wasn't enough to entice Penn Township commissioners to grant an easement on township property to a gas company that is planning a 50-mile pipeline in the region.

Commissioners last week balked at Sunoco Pipeline's offer for a 39-foot-by-50-foot permanent right-of-way on open land Penn Township owns behind the Smartie Artie's at Zackel's restaurant in Claridge. They decided to table the request while trying to receive more information from Sunoco officials about the project.

Besides his insistence that the proposed payment was too little, Solicitor Les Mlakar warned commissioners that approving an easement could cause an outcry of residents opposed to Sunoco's Mariner East project.

The township's authorization of an easement could come back to haunt commissioners, Mlakar cautioned, saying “once you cross the Rubicon, there ain't no crossing back.”

“I'm trying to keep you gentlemen away from a situation where you're between a dog and a fire hydrant,” Mlakar added.

The pipeline, which would run from Houston in Washington County to Delmont, would transport an estimated 65,000 barrels daily of ethane and propane as natural gas liquids, according to a fact sheet Sunoco gave the township. The liquid gases then would be transported along an existing pipeline to storage and processing terminals in eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware, according to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission records.

In March, Sunoco spokesman Joe McGinn told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review the company altered its originally planned route to avoid some of the county's more populous neighborhoods. McGinn didn't return messages for this story.

In October, state Rep. George Dunbar (R-56) arranged a forum in which Sunoco representatives fielded questions from residents in Dunbar's district. Dunbar said he hasn't heard any complaints in recent months about the pipeline.

“I was glad that they took the time to come in and listen to the residents, and I hope that will continue to be the case moving forward,” he said.

Though officials haven't OK'd an easement, Sunoco might be able to obtain permission to use the land behind the restaurant. Sunoco officials have said they might use eminent domain for the project by filing cases against property owners in Common Pleas Court.

Regarding the Penn Township property, Sunoco officials are interested in only a tiny section of a 12.77-acre parcel the township received from the developer of the Rivendell housing plan as a donation for recreational purposes, Manager Bruce Light said.

Still, Commissioner Paul Wersing, whose ward includes Claridge, called the proposed payment by Sunoco “minimal.”

“This is nothing, really,” he said.

Art Sciullo, who is in the process of selling the restaurant, said he isn't worried about the pipeline. He said he previously gave a gas company consent for a right-of-way that barely touched his Main Street property.

“I'm not the type of person who stands in the way of progress. That type of thing is needed.”

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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