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Court OKs Sunoco petition to use eminent domain in Penn Township

| Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, 3:14 p.m.

A Westmoreland County judge has given Sunoco Logistics Partners LP a court order to acquire an easement from a Penn Township property through eminent domain for its Mariner East pipeline project.

In an order dated Aug. 2, Common Pleas Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr. approved the company's petition to obtain a 1.66-acre easement from Quest Realty Partnership's property along Mellon Road.

Though McCormick also has granted Sunoco Logistics permission to go onto three properties in Hempfield, Sewickley and South Huntingdon townships to perform environmental testing related to the pipeline path, the Quest case was the first in the county in which a judge allowed the company to use eminent domain for the project.

The Mariner East pipeline is part of a $600 million export project that has been controversial in Westmoreland County. The Philadelphia-based company has been dogged by worries about safety and criticism that its threats of eminent domain are part of a heavy-handed attempt to acquire land.

Sunoco Logistics is acquiring rights-of-way to build a 50-mile spur to connect to a pipeline that ends at an export terminal south of Philadelphia. It will transport ethane and propane across the state, with about the last half mile going into Delaware, the company has said. That qualifies it as interstate commerce, which enables Sunoco Logistics to use eminent domain under state law, the company and independent experts have said.

But Hempfield Township Supervisor Tom Logan, whose 80-acre farm is in the pipeline path, said he thinks it's a “real stretch” for the company to be able to use eminent domain.

“I think private-property rights are under assault in this state,” he said.

In Sunoco Logistic's petition to enter Logan's property, the company said Logan would not grant permission until it gave him $5,000 in anticipation of damage to the farm.

“The court will entitle me to damages later, and I wanted them upfront,” Logan said.

In a statement, Sunoco communications manager Jeffrey Shields said the company has taken “significant measures to lessen the impact” of the project on residential areas, including modifying the initial route to follow the right-of-way of an existing Dominion Resources Inc. gas-transmission line.

“Our preference is to work with the landowners on an individual basis so that we can understand their concerns and address issues related to their particular property, offering them fair market value or above for the needed easements,” Shields said.

The company posted a bond of $26,700 to acquire the title to the Quest Realty easement, court records show. The 89-acre parcel is adjacent to the William Penn Care Center and William Penn Senior Suites and Personal Care.

Neither Quest attorney George Pomper nor Quest CEO Daniel J. Wukich could be reached for comment.

Staff Writer Tim Puko contributed to this story. 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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