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Sunoco files for eminent domain to acquire Penn land for pipeline

| Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Penn Trafford Star
Sunoco Pipeline LP filed an eminent domain case against Quest Realty Partnership last week to place a pipeline on property along Mellon Road in Penn Township.

Sunoco Pipeline officials are trying to use eminent domain to acquire an easement in the vicinity of a retirement home and assisted-living center in Penn Township for a 50-mile liquid gas-transmission line.

The company last week filed a petition in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court against Quest Realty Partnership, which owns an 89 acres that are bordered by Mellon, Ader and Walton Roads.

Quest also owns an adjacent property at Ader and Walton that has the William Penn Care Center and William Penn Senior Suites and Personal Care.

Court records show the filing is Sunoco's first attempt in the county to take right-of-way against a property owner's wishes for the Mariner East project. Sunoco also initiated cases last week to request court orders enabling it to go onto properties in Sewickley and South Huntingdon townships to perform environmental testing related to the proposed pipeline path.

Sunoco has plans to run its pipeline — to transport ethane and propane as natural gas liquids — along the same route as an existing line owned by Dominion Transmission Inc. Dominion previously got a court order to condemn via eminent domain a portion of Quest's property along Mellon Road in August 2011.

In its filing against Quest, Sunoco said it may use the right of eminent domain because it is considered a “public utility corporation” under Pennsylvania's Business Corporation Law.

But a Harrisburg attorney who represents some Washington County property owners in the pipeline's path says it's not clear to him that Sunoco has the authority for eminent domain.

Under the law Sunoco cites, a company may receive permission to condemn land for pipes transporting natural gas, petroleum or petroleum products but not natural-gas liquids, Michael Faherty said.

“I think it's open to a number of challenges,” Faherty said after reviewing a copy of Sunoco's filing.

Quest's attorney, George Pomper, also disputed Sunoco's authority in a letter earlier this year in which he opposed Sunoco's court filing to conduct environmental testing on Quest's property.

“Sunoco is not a ‘utility' to the best of our knowledge,” Pomper said in the Jan. 24 letter filed in court records. “Sunoco is known as a gasoline retailer and purveyor of motoring products such as wiper blades, tires and convenience store goods.

“The owners of Quest Realty are not aware of any electricity, natural gas, water and the like sold by Sunoco to the public.”

Pomper did not return messages from the Penn-Trafford Star about Sunoco's filing.

Sunoco spokesman Joe McGinn and Sunoco's Greensburg-based attorneys, George Stewart and Dara DeCourcy, also did not respond to requests for comment.

Landowners who oppose eminent domain can raise objections questioning whether a company is properly licensed or if a project could create environmental concerns, said Peter Georgiades, a Pittsburgh attorney who specializes in eminent domain issues. But simply saying “I don't want it” isn't sufficient, he said.

“There's no leg to stand on if you don't want it,” Georgiades said.

As of Monday, Sunoco reached agreements for rights-of-way for 16 Penn Township residential and industrial properties, county records show.

Two months ago, Penn Township commissioners declined to act on Sunoco's offer of a $1,550 payment for an easement on vacant property the township owns behind Smartie Artie's at Zackel's restaurant in Claridge.

Manager Bruce Light he hasn't heard anything from Sunoco since, but the township has received notice that Sunoco applied for an erosion and sedimentation control permit from the Westmoreland Conservation District.

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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