Statute of Limitations in Eminent Domain Cases

A recent court ruling defines the time allowed for a property owner to seek compensation. Payment of estimated just compensation, rather than the written offer to pay, triggers the start of the time limit of the Statute of Limitations. Tender of payment does not commence Statute of Limitations under 26 Pa. C.S. §307(a)(1)(i).

Update: Sunoco/Mariner East Not a Public Utility

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has initially rejected the Sunoco/ Mariner East effort to be found to be a public utility. Thus, Sunoco must comply with local zoning and Sunoco does not obtain the power of eminent domain. The decision is a significant victory for Pennsylvania property owners.

Independent judges: Sunoco Logistics pipeline can’t bypass local zoning laws
By: Katie Colaneri
July 30, 2014

Sunoco Logistics can’t bypass local zoning laws to develop its natural gas liquids pipeline project known as Mariner East. That’s the word from a pair of independent administrative law judges for the state’s Public Utility Commission, or PUC.

Sunoco Logistics wants to build 31 pump and valve stations to keep natural gas liquids flowing along the pipeline’s 300-mile route from western Pennsylvania to Marcus Hook. For months, the company has attempted to make the case – to local residents and to the PUC – that it is a public utility corporation, and that the pipeline itself offers a public utility service.

The judges dismissed that claim, resulting in a win for residents who have teamed up with environmental groups to fight the project.

“We’re happy that it proves what we’ve been saying all along,” said Tom Casey, the head of a citizens’ advocacy group in Chester County.

However, Casey, a resident of West Goshen Township, could not officially declare victory.

The case will ultimately be decided by the five-member Public Utility Commission. A PUC spokeswoman said the commission can accept, reject or modify the judges’ decision. Regardless of the outcome, the parties in the case can appeal to the state’s Commonwealth Court.

Jeff Shields, a spokesman for Sunoco Logistics, said the company believes the PUC will “continue to recognize that the proposed Mariner East service will result in numerous public benefits.”

PUC Chairman Robert Powelson was formerly the member of a group of key industry players and business leaders promoting energy projects in the Philadelphia region, leading some advocates to question his objectivity in the Sunoco Logistics case.

In May, Powelson stepped down from the group, he said, “to avoid even the appearance of bias.” Lynda Farrel, executive director of the Chester County-based Pipeline Safety Coalition, believes Powelson should recuse himself from the Mariner East vote. “Removing himself from the energy [team] was a passive way of admitting that he does have a bias,” she said.

When asked by StateImpact Pennsylvania previously, Powelson said he was not sure whether he would recuse himself, and that he was able to do his job by looking at the facts. A PUC spokeswoman said the parties in the case will have through the end of August to file exceptions and replies if they disagree with the judges’ ruling. It is not clear when the five commissioners will take up the issue.

The Mariner East pipeline would bring natural gas liquids developed in western Pennsylvania for delivery to local propane markets and to supply a demand for ethane overseas.

Correction: Sunoco Logistics plans to build 31 pump and valve stations for the Mariner East pipeline, not 18.

Cox v. Sunoco Pipeline

sun_updateThe Washington County Judge has provided an additional stay, or delay, in the consolidation cases to allow for the parties to resolve the cases. The involved four cases with property owner representation by Attorney Mike Faherty have progressed to written resolutions. The property owners agreed to modified and restricted easement language with large financial settlements. Cox v. Sunoco is expected to be fully resolved, without a decision on eminent domain power, by September of 2014.

Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline Proposed in Lebanon County

Mike Faherty, shown below at right, attended the Lebanon County presentation by Williams Company concerning the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. A company representative indicated plans for 50 foot wide permanent pipeline easements and 75 foot wide temporary easements. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is expected to consider a pipeline proposal. Williams Company is expected to attempt to purchase easements based on linear foot calculations. In truth, property owners at entitled to just compensation as defined by before minus after value as damages per the Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Code.

Lebanon County residents look over maps showing the route of Williams’ proposed natural-gas pipeline during an open house Tuesday night at Annville-Cleona High School. Many of those attending the meeting expressed concern over the proposed route. (Les Stewart — Lebanon Daily News)


Open house at Annville-Cleona draws residents concerned over natural-gas pipeline proposal

Lebanon Daily News
By Les Stewart

Some expressed concern for their safety, some sought more information, and some are against the whole idea.

Those were among the reactions during an open house Tuesday night for a proposed natural-gas pipeline that Oklahoma-based Williams wants to build across Lebanon County.

Some 300 people examined maps spread out on tables showing the proposed pipeline route during the meeting at Annville-Cleona High School to see how the proposed pipeline would affect their properties.

Maps of the proposed 27-mile Central Penn South line show the pipeline crossing from Pine Grove Township in Schuylkill County into Lebanon County near Swatara State Park. The pipeline skirts the northern edge of the park in Union Township before doglegging south near Lickdale. From there, it continues south through East Hanover, North Annville, South Annville and South Londonderry townships before entering Lancaster County at Lawn.

The project is part of Williams’ Atlantic Sunrise Project, a 176-mile pipeline that would connect to the company’s pipelines in natural gas-rich northeastern Pennsylvania to its 10,200 miles of distribution pipelines stretching from the Texas Gulf Coast to New York.

Although the pipeline will not go through his property, Grant Taylor of North Annville Township said it is close enough that it has him concerned. “If those lines blow up, and they make a 50-foot crater, the proposed pipeline would be 25 feet away from my house,” he said. “My family’s safety is number one.” Taylor said he was also concerned an old growth of trees near his home would be knocked down to make way for the pipeline. In addition, he worries how the pipeline might affect his water supply.

Patrick Kerwin, also of North Annville, noted the pipeline crossing an area underlain by limestone that is prone to sinkholes. If the pipeline were to break, he said, it would pollute the area’s water supply. He also wondered how the expansion of the Millard Quarry would affect the proposed pipeline. “It just seems like we’re looking for trouble,” Kerwin said. “It seems like there ought to be better route than through unstable limestone.”

Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz said residents should have a meeting with company officials to get more answers. The Tuesday open house, she said, seemed like “a show and tell like we did in first grade.” People have questions about the project, she added. They want to know the pipeline will be safe, and their properties and their water will be safe. “They deserve real answers,” she said.

Litz said she asked company officials for a complete set of maps showing the proposed route and was told it would take several weeks to get them. She said she also asked why the company could not build the pipeline across its existing pipeline. “Why are they cutting across our precious farmland?” she asked. Litz said she has heard stories that banks will not provide mortgages, and insurance companies will not write insurance policies for properties with a gas line running through them.

Williams spokesman Christopher Stockton said the company has heard those stories as well. He said Williams has contacted some of the lenders that people have cited and found that is not the case. He said Williams operates 15,000 miles of pipeline across the country, and “that has not been an issue at all.” Williams is aware of concerns about the path of the pipeline near areas underlain by limestone, Stockton said. The company will conduct extensive studies looking for problem areas to ensure the safety of the pipeline. “At the end of the day, the safe operation of the pipeline is our number-one priority,” he said.

For example, Stockton said, the company goes beyond federal requirements regarding welds on its pipelines. Stockton said there is now more natural gas production in Pennsylvania than in the Gulf of Mexico. In the past, natural gas was transported from the south to the north, he said. The Pennsylvania portion is part of a $3 billion project that will run through five states, he said. “This project turns the pipeline around,” he said, allowing for gas produced in the north to be shipped toward the Gulf Coast.

Robin Maguire of Conestoga and Tim Spiese of Martic Township, Lancaster County, both said they were against the whole idea of the project. Maguire said she believed all the gas would be headed to overseas markets. Spiese said he was concerned the pipeline company will take the land it wants through eminent domain. Lebanon Pipeline Awareness, a local group against the project, set up a table outside the high school and invited those attending the open house to sign a petition asking the county commissioners to hold a public meeting to allow residents to get more answers about the project.

Litz said she would favor that type of meeting.

Eminent Domain Delay


Cox v. Sunoco Pipeline

Judge Katherine B. Emery of Washington County has issued another Order in the Sunoco Pipeline efforts to use eminent domain for the Pennsylvania Pipeline. On May 23, 2014, the Judge learned that four of the five consolidated cases had progressed to verbal agreements and the fifth case was nearing settlement. She ordered the matter stayed, or delayed, until June 23, 2014. By then the five cases are likely to be settled. Judge Emery thus would not decide the eminent domain case of Cox v. Sunoco. Multiple  other similar cases before her would then be allowed to progress to a decision.

Tentative settlement reached in Sunoco Pipeline eminent domain case

by: Scott Beveridge, staff writer, Published May 27, 2014

A tentative out-of-court settlement was reached between Sunoco Pipeline and a Chartiers Township couple who were attempting to prevent the company from imposing eminent domain to secure an easement to cross their property for a new Marcellus Shale pipeline.

Sunoco attorneys informed Washington County Judge Katherine B. Emery Friday of the pending agreement that would end the case involving Ron and Sallie Cox, who headed a list of more than 40 local property owners involved in similar litigation with the company, the judge’s law clerk said Tuesday. Three other cases were combined with the Cox appeal.

The remaining lawsuits stand in the way of Sunoco completing a 50-mile pipeline from MarkWest Energy’s gas-processing plant in Chartiers to Delmont to hook into a nearly 20-year-old line crossing Pennsylvania into Delaware.

Central to the Cox appeal was whether Sunoco could claim public utility status to acquire easements for the pipeline.

The complicated legal battle saw Sunoco switch attorneys in March in the Washington County case and in a related appeal before the state Public Utility Commission when its former law firm was accused of having a conflict of interest with the PUC. Sunoco, meanwhile, lost an appeal in York County in February involving a related pipeline project there.

Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields didn’t return messages Tuesday. The Coxes and their attorney, Harrisburg attorney Michael Faherty, who represents the Coxes and others involved in the challenges, confirmed there was a oral agreement to settle with the Chartiers couple and three other property owners.

Faherty said the terms of the settlements would not be divulged “for the time being.”

Emery apparently was prepared to rule in the Cox case after Friday’s deadline for Sunoco’s new law firm to catch up on the case.

The company also hasn’t file a petition in Washington County Court to withdraw its case against the Coxes.

Sunoco Denial of Delay

A Sunoco denial of delay includes information on a plan for a second pipeline across Pennsylvania.

Sunoco Logistics: Opposition won’t delay pipeline

By Andrew Maykuth, Inquirer Staff Writer Posted: 09, 2014

Local opposition to a Sunoco Logistics Partners Marcellus Shale pipeline should not delay the project or add to its cost, the company’s president told investment analysts Wednesday.

Michael J. Hennigan, chief executive of the Philadelphia pipeline company, said the 299-mile Mariner East project, which would transport natural gas liquids on an existing pipeline to port facilities in Marcus Hook, is moving ahead.

“Obviously, whenever you’re engaged in a project, you’re going to run into some local discussions,” Hennigan said. “We’re very confident we can work through those issues with all the townships we’ve impacted.”

The company’s subsidiary, Sunoco Pipeline L.P., has encountered resistance acquiring rights-of-way along a 50-mile portion of new pipeline in Western Pennsylvania. And some residents in West Goshen Township in Chester County have objected to its proposal to expand its Boot Road pumping station.

Hennigan said the company’s experience converting an existing pipeline to transport natural gas liquids from the Pittsburgh area to Ontario demonstrates that the company has a good track record.

Sunoco anticipates the 72,000-barrel-per-day Mariner East project will begin transporting propane this year and ethane next year. The ethane, which is a raw material in petrochemical production, is committed for export to Norway.

Sunoco has also been exploring building a parallel pipeline to transport additional liquids to Delaware County that would begin operations in 2016. That new pipeline would require additional rights-of-way across Pennsylvania.

Antero Resources, a producer in the Marcellus and Utica Shales, recently committed to transport 51,500 barrels per day of ethane, propane, and butane on the new pipeline.

Hennigan says Sunoco needs additional shipper commitments to go ahead with the project, and has extended the “open season” for shippers to sign up. The project is competing with other pipelines that would carry the fuels to the Gulf Coast ports and chemical plants.

Sunoco Pipeline is asking the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to clarify its standing as a public utility, a move that faces legal challenges from property owners along the potential pipeline route.

Sunoco Pipeline Delay

On April 30, 2014 Judge Katherine B. Emery issued an Order which stayed, or delayed, litigation in the consolidated eminent domain cases of Cox v. Sunoco. The Order was in response to a Motion by new counsel recently hired by Sunoco.

Sunoco Pipeline Withdraws the West Goshen Effort and Proceeds with the PUC Effort

Sunoco shifts battle over pipeline to PUC

By Kendal Gapinski, Daily Local News
Posted: 04/29/14
Residents gathered recently in West Goshen, most to voice opposition to a request by Sunoco involving a natural gas pipeline going through the township.
Staff Photo by Vinny Tennis

WEST GOSHEN — Sunoco Logistics has withdrawn its application seeking special exceptions for its pump station on Boot Road and Route 202 that was in front of the zoning hearing board, the township said Tuesday.

Instead, the company indicated it will fight the legal battle over its Mariner East Project above-ground facilities in front of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.


A worker builds part of the Mariner 1 pipeline that will bring in natural gas from the Marcellus Shale to Marcus Hook. (Delaware County Times Staff / JULIA WILKINSON )

The company plans to transport mainly propane and ethane from the Marcellus Shale section of the state in western Pennsylvania to Marcus Hook in Delaware County.

According to Township Manager Casey LaLonde, Sunoco removed its application on Tuesday seeking a special exception for a public utility use in a residentially zoned area. The zoning hearing was set to continue on Thursday evening but is now canceled.

Sunoco had filed with the township zoning hearing board in February for special exceptions concerning the height of its combustion system — which was later redesigned to meet current zoning ordinances — and for a special exception for a public utility use in a residential area.

Company spokesman Jeff Shields said in a statement that Sunoco’s withdrawal of its application comes a day after the company notified the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission that it will be filing an amended petition seeking public utility status for its above-ground facilities within 10 days.

He said that this amended petition will assert that Sunoco is already a public utility corporation and its pipeline buildings should be exempt from local regulations.

“Sunoco Pipeline is withdrawing its application before the West Goshen Zoning Hearing Board,” Shields said in a statement. “The Public Utility Commission’s open hearing process, by law, is the appropriate public venue for approval of buildings related to the pipeline.”

He noted that the company was continuing to review the proposed facilities on Boot Road and take input from residents.
Sunoco filed a petition in March with the PUC asking for an expedited review of its application for its above-ground pipeline facilities to be given public utility corporation status. That status would exempt its facilities for its Mariner East Project from local regulations.

Shields said that the amended petition will point out to the PUC that Sunoco Pipeline “is already a public utility corporation, certificated and regulated by the PUC, for intrastate shipment of petroleum products along the Mariner East Line.”

Residents and officials have argued that Sunoco is not a public utility corporation under current law, and therefore must abide by local regulations concerning its pipeline facilities for the Mariner East Project. However, Sunoco maintains it does have this status, citing previous PUC rulings, and that it has tariffs that are regulated by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Additionally, Shields said the amended petition will show that Sunoco Pipeline will make their shipments of propane from its Pennsylvania pipeline available to the public. Sunoco said that it is making propane accessible in response to in-state demand.

Residents said that they were happy to hear that Sunoco had withdrawn its zoning application, but said they were still focused on fighting Sunoco for its public utility status in front of the PUC.
“When I first saw the letter, it was kind of like ‘yes!’” said resident Tom Casey. “But this doesn’t mean that we won. We still have a big fight at the PUC level.”

“We need to get more and more people involved,” he added. “We know where our focus is now.”

PA Pipeline Update

The following news article provides a helpful update, with pictures, of the Sunoco Pipeline proposal for the Mariner East 2 Pipeline, which was recently renamed the Pennsylvania Pipeline

Gas pipeline wants fast track on expansion, pump station, flare stack approval in Pa


Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 Pipeline project is crossing Pa for Delaware River ship terminal

Company files request to fast track project approval, including construction of pump stations, compressors, flare stacks in suburban neighborhoods

New or repurposed petroleum pipeline would carry ethane, propane, butane from PA shale gas fields to ships for transport to Europe

Pa company touts jobs, revenue from Pa gas; homeowners urge caution in recently suburbanized communities

Pa township zoning hearings will determine fate of pumping stations with gas flaring stacks

Sunoco Logistics, a Philadelphia and Sinking Spring, Pa gas pipeline company is moving into Eastern Pa with approval requests for its Mariner East 2 pipeline project. The company announced the project in a 2013 press release. Read it by clicking here. 

Mariner East 2 will involve new or repurposed gas pipelines to carry ethane, propane and butane from the new Marcellus and Utica shale gas fields of Western Pa, West Virginia and Ohio to a large new gas shipping terminal on the Delaware River.  FERC.Gov photo

Testing, approvals and some construction on the pipeline has begun in Western Pa and Ohio.  In some areas the 8-inch pipeline will be new and in other areas the pipeline will use existing materials.

Many locations for the existing pipeline now include suburban communities that were formerly rural farmland. Candgnews photo


Mariner East 2 begins at Sunoco’s Houston, Pa location (southwest of Pittsburgh) and will terminate at a new Liquified Natural Gas shipping terminal in Marcus Hook, Pa on the Delaware River.

In March, 2014 Chester County, Pa established an interactive website for tracking pipelines in the county and with links about pipeline issues. Link to the new website by clicking here.

Part of this terminal is also in the state of Delaware.  Sunoco Logistics Image Via FERC


One of the largest shale gas producers in Pa, Range Resources, has committed (2012) to shipping gas through the new Mariner East 2 pipeline, according to Sunoco Logistics.

Much of the gas will come from the gas-rich fields of Southwestern Pa.  This photo is from another gas field in NE Pa. William Huston Blog photo


Shipping capacity and volume estimates vary but one project proposal indicates the pipeline would initially carry 50,000 barrels of liquified gas in the former petroleum pipelines to the Marcus Hook refrigerated gas storage facilities, above. Sunoco Logistics image


The Mariner East 2 pipeline terminal in Marcus Hook is being repurposed from oil refinery and terminal to a gas storage and shipping facility.  The liquid gas would be loaded onto ships and transported to European markets. photo


Many pipelines across Pa were established with easements to carry petroleum when much of the Pa landscape was farmland.  Today these pipelines pass through suburbanized communities.

Additionally, many residents are concerned about the conversion of the former petroleum pipelines to highly pressurized liquid gas and its combustibility.   In some cases, residents aren’t aware that a pipeline, installed many years ago, runs through their neighborhood.


Sunoco has a long history of pipelines through Pa. This image shows a petroleum pipeline through Chester County in 1946. Notice how most all of the terrainwas farmland. Landowners were not too concerned about the pipelines at the time because of wide spaces between the pipelines and homes.

This section is running through Uwchlan and Upper Uwchlan Townships along what was then Milford Road, now Dowlin Forge Road.  This line, however, is not part of the proposed Mariner East 2 pipeline but runs near it.  Penn State image

Nearly the same scene today shows the concern because of farmland that is now suburbanized communities.  Google maps image


One concern for residents is the pump or compressor stations that must be built along the gas pipelines to push the gas through.  Some of these stations can be quite large, depending upon terrain and distance from the next station.

Others are small. This image of a compressor station is from the Catskill Mountains in New York State.  Catskill Mountain Keeper photo


Another example of a pump or compressor station on a gas pipeline, but smaller.  There appears to be a combustion or flare stack on the left. photo

Pipeline compressor station with portable buildings. 

Another concern for residents is a compressor station that might contain a combustion or flare stack. In times of low pressure, liquid ethane, propane and butane can return to a gaseous state which may require its release into the atmosphere through the flare stacks.

This station with flare stack shows how the flaring pipes can be enclosed so residents do not see or hear the emissions from the flare stack. photo

Along the pipeline in West Goshen Township, Chester County, Pa, Sunoco has purchased this (green outlined) 4.2 acre property at Route 202 and Boot Road for a pump station.  It is seeking approval from 31 Pa townships to build 18 of these stations along the pipeline and 17 valve control stations.

This pump station is also proposed for a ‘vapor combustion system’ or flare stack of 34 feet in height. Sunoco wants a variance from West Goshen to exceed the 30 foot building height limit.  The type of flare stack is not known. Sunoco is seeking approval of the zoning variance at an April 3, 2014 meeting at the West Goshen Township building.

Chester County homeowners have organized on Facebook in an effort to have a say in the zoning variance request. Read about their organizationhere.

An article on the group’s initial meeting at the West Goshen Township building on March 27, 2014 by the Daily Local is here.

TetraTech photo via West Goshen Township

 Sunoco Pipeline is also applying for status as a Public Utility in Pennsylvania. See the application and a list of all Pa Townships involved in the Mariner East 2 pipeline expansion by clicking here.

If approved, the pump and valve control station buildings, above, that Sunoco says it would install on the sites, would  be ‘exempt from any local zoning, subdivision and land development regulations’.  

The company is also requesting that the applications be expedited because ‘full potential of Pennsylvania shale gas remains hampered by limited pipeline infrastructure’. The company has requested approval of this legal designation prior to the Public Utility Commission’s meeting of June 19, 2014. 

The company’s application says the buildings and expedited service are needed for the ‘convenience and welfare of the public’.  It also does not want one township’s denial of construction to hold up the entire pipeline.

A judge has already ruled in York County on Sunoco’s Motion for Survey Rights and efforts to condemn property in Eminent Domain. Read about it by clicking here.

PA eminent domain blogger and Harrisburg attorney Michael Faherty has written ten reasons why, he believes, Sunoco will not succeed with the PUC in gaining Public Utility status and the power of eminent domain. Read them by clicking here.

Sunoco Logistics photo

The major concern that residents along the pipeline route have is with safety.  Recent pipeline explosions in the news have caused alarm.

However, statistics show that despite their intrusion into communities, pipelines are the safer method of fuel transport over rail or trucking, according to independent reports which can be found by clicking here. Other concerns are noise, view-shed, and property values for those homes closest to the proposed stations. Protecting our Waters photo

Compressor, pump and valve control stations come in a variety of sizes, according to location and need. Aside from a proposed two modular buildings on each site along the Mariner East 2 pipeline, Sunoco has not revealed the size of the stations requested.

The photos above, from Blogger William Huston in Binghamton, NY, are large footprint compressor stations.

Along with West Goshen Township in Eastern Pa, Sunoco has proposals for pump or valve control stations in Upper Uwchlan Township  where it has existing gas facilities, above, and Wallace Township, Chester County. As of March 28, 2014 no applications for the project from Sunoco had been filed at Upper Uwchlan, said a Township official.

Other stations would be in Upper Chichester in Delaware County, Brecknock and Spring Townships in Berks County, and West Cocalico Township in Lancaster County. Google Maps photos

Pennsylvania has a long history of petroleum and gas pipeline transportation because of its early oil fields in Western Pa and proximity to shipping on the Delaware River.

Initially, pipelines built during World War II carried oil to the large refineries such as Atlantic (1926 photo), above, on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.  Later pipelines carried oil to refineries in Delaware, Marcus Hook and Chester, Pa.  Library Company of Phila photo

This photo of the old Schuylkill River Philadelphia refineries shows the former JFK stadium in the right background. Library Company of Philadelphia photo.

Refineries along the Delaware River are also being repurposed to handle crude oil shipped in trains from new oil fields in the Northern and Northwestern United States.