On February 1, the Hankin Group (a commercial real estate developer in Chester County) filed suit against Sunoco for breach of contract and trespassing in Chester County court. The Hankin Group has properties at four points along the right-of-way of the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system). At each of the four properties, Sunoco obtained a construction easement (allowing access for pipeline construction), and at each of them, the construction easement has expired.
By the terms of the easements, Sunoco should have restored the properties to their original condition and departed by now. In fact, all four easement areas are in serious need of restoration, and Sunoco has been moving equipment back onto one of them, an indication that they plan to restart work there (after stopping last spring).
The properties are:
- New Kent Apartments, 300 New Kent Drive, East Goshen
- Corner Park Apartments, 807 E. Boot Road, West Whiteland
- 260 Sierra Drive, Upper Uwchlan (commercial/office building)
- 730 Stockton Drive, Upper Uwchlan (commercial/office building)
These properties are spread from the northern to the southern edge of Chester County. The map below shows their locations.
Drilling ten feet from the patio. The Hankin suit (which you can read in full here) describes a long list of problems caused by Sunoco. The worst of them are at the Corner Park Apartments, which lie in the fork between Boot Road and Ship Road. In one of the three buildings at that site, all 20 of the apartments have either a deck or a patio that looks out on the Sunoco easement, which is only 10 feet from the building. Sunoco has had a huge drill operating there for a large part of the past two years.
It is no wonder, then, that according to the suit “Apartment units at 807 Boot Road remain vacant on average three (3) months longer than comparable apartments and rent for twenty-five percent (25%) to thirty-five percent (35%) less than comparable apartments unaffected by pipeline construction”.
There is a major excavation which has not been filled in, the grass has been removed and not replaced, and a rock-and-wood platform area for construction vehicles is still there. All this was to have been remediated by now.
The construction also blocks a planned emergency access location, and that is preventing Hankin from getting a “Highway Occupancy Permit” and retrieving $31,000 in escrow with the county.
Although there has been no construction at this site since last spring, Sunoco contractors are currently moving equipment back in. It is my understanding that horizontal direction drilling (HDD) has not been completed at this location and I assume that the new equipment indicates that Sunoco intends to resume drilling soon.
The situation is similar at New Kent Apartments, where Sunoco also stopped work last spring. The excavations remain, the grass and foliage haven’t been replaced (and problems with storm runoff have resulted), and the monument-style sign for the complex has not been replaced. I believe that this, too, is a location where HDD was not completed.
Remediation has not been done at the office buildings at 260 Sierra Drive and 730 Stockton Drive, either. These buildings are in an office park in the Eagleview area of Upper Uwchlan. Photos attached to the lawsuit show the disarray that Sunoco left at the four sites.
The ask: leave the premises and pay at least $100,000. The lawsuit requests that the judge issue “an order directing Sunoco Pipeline to immediately vacate the properties.” It requests a judgment against Sunoco of “an amount in excess of $50,000 and other such relief as the Court may deem appropriate” for trespass, and a similar amount for breach of contract.
Implications for Mariner construction. It is hard to say at this point whether this lawsuit represents a serious problem for Sunoco’s construction plans. If the Hankin Group could be satisfied by a substantial financial settlement, then Sunoco will probably choose that route and the lull in construction will be brief.
But if the Hankin Group’s primary objective is getting Sunoco to leave, resolution of the dispute could take a long time. It is my understanding that Sunoco will require the use of at least two of these sites to complete installation of its pipes. If so, they will no doubt use their cadre of lawyers to try to ensure that they can complete their work.
Sunoco will probably threaten to take the easement through eminent domain, as they have in so many cases across the state. So far, the courts have let Sunoco do that; but it has mostly been individual landowners with limited resources that have tried to put up a fight. The Hankin Group can enlist far more legal firepower and expend far more money in pursuing its case than the average landowner could.