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Landowners plan to fight pipeline work

| Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, 10:43 p.m.

A controversial pipeline project could meet its first legal opposition next week in Westmoreland County, where a lawyer for two families said Tuesday he's going to fight ongoing attempts to take the land by force.

Sunoco Logistics Partners LP took action in Common Pleas Court last week to force three families to give up rights of way in Hempfield, Penn and South Huntingdon townships. The Philadelphia company wants to pipe Marcellus shale gas to Europe-bound ships. To do so, it's trying to use eminent domain to gather land for a link between a Washington County gas-processing plant and a Salem pipeline hub.

Latrobe attorney Daniel J. Hewitt — who represents Michael and Laurie Zima of Hempfield and Timothy and Jennifer Klobucar of Penn Township — said he plans to object to those claims during a motions hearing Sept. 13 before Westmoreland County Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr. The Hempfield landowners also have a lawyer. Sunoco Logistics had filed only one previous eminent domain claim — for land near a Penn Township senior home — which ended uncontested Aug. 2.

“I don't want to think my property is going to be the property for all the pipelines that come through,” said Sandra Busch-Cup, who already has two other gas transmission pipelines on her Harmony Road property in Hempfield. “I just sometimes feel like it's useless to try to fight them. With this eminent domain, there's really nothing you can do.”

Busch-Cup declined to explain her exact plans. Hewitt declined to give details about his argument, saying he was still researching.

The legal filings said the company has not been able to reach agreements with the landowners. The company has two petitions filed regarding eminent domain claims in Washington County and none in Allegheny County, said Jeff Shields, communications manager for Sunoco Logistics.

“Sunoco Logistics has taken significant measures to lessen the impact of the Mariner East project on residential areas,” said Shields. “Our initial route in Westmoreland County was modified significantly to follow the right-of-way of an existing Dominion pipeline. 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.”

The Tribune-Review previously reported the company has a strong eminent domain claim because of where the Mariner East project ends. After snaking for nearly 300 miles within Pennsylvania, the last half-mile of the pipeline edges into Delaware. Any inch of a pipeline that crosses a state border qualifies as interstate commerce, giving the company eminent domain power under state law, legal experts told the Trib.

The state Public Utility Commission confirmed on Thursday that Mariner East will end in Claymont, Del., where the Marcus Hook terminal straddles the state border. It approved an order permitting the company to shut down pre-existing segments of the pipeline that now ship fuel between Marcus Hook and Salem, effectively ending state regulation over those parts of the line.

It sought that permission in order to begin construction on the new project, commission chairman Robert F. Powelson said in a statement. The closings started Sunday and will continue in two stages, Oct. 1 and Nov. 1, the order says.

Shields said the company has no plans to change the route, and construction of the 50-mile new line is to start between mid-October and early December, based upon the permit approval process.

“We will be having open houses for impacted stakeholders along the construction route before we start,” Shields said. “The number of meetings and the dates have not been set.”

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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