Pennsylvania

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Homeowners say Sunoco breached protective order during pipeline construction

An easement where Sunoco Pipeline is preparing for construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline.  A homeowners group says the company is contacting residents in violation of a court order.

Jon Hurdle

An easement where Sunoco Pipeline is preparing for construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline. A homeowners group says the company is contacting residents in violation of a court order.

A group of Delaware County homeowners ramped up a war of words with Sunoco Pipeline on Thursday, accusing it of violating a court order that forbids company representatives from contacting residents during construction work for the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

And Sunoco’s lawyers began the process of applying to a judge for a writ of possession, which would give the company the right to exclude residents from an easement on land that is owned by their homeowners’ association.

Rich Raiders, an attorney for the Andover Homeowners Association in Thornbury Township, said Sunoco representatives were using “inappropriate conduct” and trespassing on private property at a site where their contractors are clearing trees and preparing ground for the pipeline.

Raiders said Sunoco and its contractors had contacted residents without his permission, as prohibited in a protective order issued by the Commonwealth Court on May 16.

In a letter to the company’s outside attorney, George Kroculick of the Philadelphia firm Duane Morris, Raiders accused Sunoco and its representatives of trespassing on association-owned land where Sunoco has an easement for the new pipeline. He urged Kroculick to “get control of your client.”

Raiders said Sunoco improperly removed boundary markers and a fence, and incorrectly told residents that they are trespassing on the land.

“Sunoco has no right to tell anybody who is not interfering with construction work that any owner of property is excluded from their property,” Raiders wrote.

Over Labor Day weekend, Sunoco contractors called the State Police, and made their own allegations of criminal trespass after three township residents stepped over a spray-painted line marking the edge of the easement. Two state troopers took names and addresses from both sides but left without making arrests.

The residents told police that they were walking on their land and trying to document the tree-clearing there, but were not interfering with the contractors’ work.

Residents would be banned from the land if a Delaware County judge grants Sunoco a writ of possession. In April, a judge in Huntingdon County issued a writ of possession for land owned by the Gerhart family whose land has been taken by Sunoco for the pipeline.

Eric Friedman, president of the association, attacked the application for a writ. “It’s outrageous that they would take steps to bar us from our own private property when we have done nothing to interfere with the destruction that they are causing,” he said.

Residents of the upscale Andover development, plus their supporters from the surrounding township, say the pipeline will represent a grave risk to their safety because of the explosive nature of the natural gas liquids that it will carry. They say all 39 houses are in the “blast zone” in the event of a leak.

Sunoco says the pipeline will meet all state and federal safety regulations.

Raiders said in the letter that the police will take no action against the residents unless Sunoco can show that they are impeding work at the site. He invited Kroculick to read a recent StateImpact story for more information on the weekend incident.

“As the state police will provide your client with no relief without an actual showing of interference and obstruction with actual work being performed, we expect that Duane Morris will take additional efforts to enforce compliance with the Protective Order,” he said.

The association’s allegation that Sunoco violated the order is due to be heard by the Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg on Sept. 26.

Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields, asked to comment on the association’s letter, said: “This is a pending legal matter and we will reserve our comments for court.”

Neither Kroculick nor Lt. Timothy Green of the Pennsylvania State Police returned phone calls seeking comment.

The more-than $2.5 billion pipeline will carry propane, ethane and butane from the Marcellus Shale of southwestern Pennsylvania to an export terminal at Marcus Hook near Philadelphia. The project is scheduled for completion in the fourth quarter of this year.

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