On February 28, the Chester County commissioners made an important announcement: the County will finally enter the fight against the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system). It will file to intervene in the “Safety Seven” (Flynn et al.) case before the Public Utility Commission (PUC), and the construction easements near the county library, which have expired, will not be renewed.

These are both important steps. Intervention (which would give the County a seat at the table to participate in the PUC proceedings) is logical, since Chester County has been the location of so many of the Dragonpipe-related problems, most notably the Lisa Drive sinkholes and the well and aquifer damage from drilling at Shoen Road. If there is anything surprising about the intervention filing, it is that it has taken so long: five municipalities (including four in Chester County), four school districts (two in Chester County), and neighboring Delaware County have already taken this step. The Chester County commissioners have been notably resistant to intervening, but they deserve credit for finally taking the step. (You can find the full list of intervenors in this and other pipeline-related PUC cases at “Annotated listing of pipeline-related cases before the PUC”.)

But in my opinion, the easement issue could be even more important than the decision to intervene, and it has been neglected in the press reports so far. The easements will be my focus in the remainder of this post.

Four easements: two permanent, two temporary. The County has signed four recent easements with Sunoco. On February 2, 2017, the three county commissioners (Michelle Kichline, Kathi Cozzone, and Terence Farrell) signed off on permanent easements, granting rights to add pipelines to the existing right-of-way alongside the library and near Business Route 30, where the Chester Valley Trail crosses the road. Then, on September 22 of 2017, they signed off on two temporary easements to provide construction access on land adjacent to the library for the pipeline work. It is the two temporary easements that are the subject of the County’s recent announcement. One of the library temporary easements involves the use of what is currently the library’s rear staff parking area for construction equipment. The other easement, more troubling, is for the use of the library’s front lawn as a construction area. It is these two temporary easements, each with a period of 12 months, that the County has decided not to renew.

Can the library lawn be saved? Under one of the temporary easements, the shaded area with reading benches in front of the library is slated to become a construction zone. The photo below shows the area in question. The library itself is just to the left of the photo. Not only would the lawn become a construction zone, but many of the mature shade trees would be cut down.

The easement has explicit language about this: “Grantee [Sunoco] shall have the right to clear and keep the Temporary Easement cleared of all trees, brush, undergrowth, buildings, structures, improvements, or other obstructions….” Those who are familiar with the wasteland resulting from Sunoco’s clearing operation at the Andover subdivision will have a sense of what this would mean.

CC library view, cropped 10-22-17
Chester County library lawn as it looks now. If allowed to renew its recently-expired easement, Sunoco would cut down most of the trees in the background and turn the lawn into a construction workspace.

The aerial view below shows where the boundaries of the construction workspace would be. This is one of the few remaining green spaces in downtown Exton, and it is adjacent to a vulnerable wetland area with a small stream (Valley Creek).  Many of us have enjoyed sitting and reading here when the weather is suitable. This beautiful space needs to be saved, and I am glad to see Chester County taking steps to save it.

library constuction area 1-20-18
The area outlined in red is Sunoco’s planned construction workspace. It occupies about two-thirds of the area between the library building and the creek. 

The decision by Chester County not to renew the easements is similar to the decision made by the Hankin Group when Sunoco’s temporary construction easements on their properties ran out (see “Sunoco sued for trespassing, breach of contract, and other damage at four sites”). In the Hankin case, Sunoco may still hope that a large sum of money will be enough to resolve the issues. That kind of solution is less likely with public property involved, so it seems likely that Sunoco will have to turn to the courts if it hopes to use this easement. That would likely mean a lengthy legal process, at the very least.

Together with their decision to intervene in the Safety Seven case, the commissioners’ decision not to renew these two easements sends a powerful message about county residents’ disgust at Sunoco’s arrogant behavior and the company’s decision to route a dangerous pipeline through the heart of the county, destroying well-loved areas like the library grounds along the way. Some have suggested that the County Commissioners chose to take this step now because they have finally become aware of the seriousness of Sunoco’s misdeeds. Others suggest this is more related to the fact that all three are up for re-election in the fall. Whatever the reason, I am glad to see the County finally taking a stand against Sunoco’s ill-conceived and dangerous pipeline plans.