Sunoco wants to resume construction of the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system) at Tunbridge Apartments in Middletown Township, Delaware County. Construction there has been a nightmare, and Sunoco’s initial attempt at constructing that section of pipeline resulted in failure.
Now, the company wants to start over, and it wants to obtain more temporary workspace this time. It also wants to turn some of what has been used as “temporary” workspace into a permanent easement.
The owner of the land Sunoco wants happens to be the Borough of Media (although the land itself is located outside of Media). Back in 2016, the Borough granted Sunoco a temporary easement for a 25-foot strip of land at the Tunbridge location as construction workspace.
That 2016 easement is expiring (or it may already have expired—it lasts “36 months from the date of construction commencement”, a vague date that has not been pinned down). Now, Sunoco wants renewed access to that land, plus an additional strip of land that would nearly double the area of “temporary workspace”. Also, in its new documents, Sunoco wants to turn part of the area previously indicated as “temporary workspace” in 2016 into a “variable width permanent easement”.
Sunoco wants Media Borough Council to vote on its proposal at the Council meeting tonight (April 16). But this is not a matter for a quick vote. The documents Sunoco has submitted to the Borough raise several specific questions that need to be answered before any vote.
The legal documents and drawings. I have been provided with copies of the documents involved in both the 2016 easement agreement and the new (2020) easement request.
The documents include detailed drawings of the areas involved in the 2016 easement and the 2020 proposal. By comparing the drawings, you can deduce some information that Sunoco doesn’t explicitly state. On the diagram above, I have superimposed the outline of the 2016 easement (heavy black outline) on the new drawing. This reveals two important facts.
- Sunoco wants to approximately double the area of its easement. The area covered by the previous easement agreement is shown inside the heavy black line. The hatched areas shown in blue, to the left of the heavy outline, are new. They represent an area that almost doubles the previous easement area.
- Sunoco wants to turn the majority of the area that was part of the 2016 “temporary workspace” easement into a “variable width permanent easement.” That permanent easement area is the area of pink hexagons that falls within the heavy black outline. Instead of land that Sunoco would have only temporary access to, it would become land which Media Borough will never regain control of.
Legal bullying. In its effort to get the easement it wants, Sunoco’s lawyers have resorted to the same kind of legal bullying they often use on landowners. In this case, Sunoco is claiming that it can take the workspace without the Borough’s consent upon payment of $2,000, based on a clause in the 1937 document that established the permanent easement.
Concerning the new easement area, Sunoco’s lawyer writes: “In other words, the [1937 easement] grants to Sunoco Pipeline the right to install a second pipeline underneath the Property within 50 feet of the original pipeline….”
That may be true, but it is not relevant. Sunoco is not planning to use the new easement “to install a second pipeline.” That second pipeline (ME2) will be entirely within the 1937 permanent easement. The new easement is for a “temporary workspace”, an entirely different use that is not mentioned in the 1937 document. Furthermore, it is not even clear what “original pipeline” the lawyer is talking about. The lawyer’s letter says that it “is shown as ‘Existing Pipeline’ on Exhibit B”. But three different pipelines are marked “Existing Pipeline” on that drawing.
Could Sunoco win a battle in court in support of its claim that this workspace is covered by the 1937 clause? I have no idea, but it seems doubtful.
Some questions need to be answered. Given the sordid story of Sunoco’s work at the Tunbridge location until now, Borough Council needs to consider carefully whether it wants to grant Sunoco even more space there.
Here are some of the questions raised by Sunoco’s request:
- How does Sunoco plan to use this additional workspace? Will there be even more equipment and even more disruption at Tunbridge?
- Why does Sunoco want to turn some of what was previously “temporary workspace” into a “variable width permanent easement”? Will there be a permanent valve station or pumping station there? This expansion of the permanent easement can be deduced from the drawings, but it is not addressed in the written materials.
- Is there a real legal basis Sunoco’s claim that the 1937 document gives it a right to land within 50 feet of “the existing pipeline”? Which pipeline is that?
- Should Media Borough Council allow itself to become party to a project that has brought nothing but trouble to Delaware County and the greater Media area, and that has torn apart the lives of Tunbridge residents in particular?
Borough Council should turn down Sunoco’s request, at least until such time as it has a chance to get answers to these questions. Sunoco has proved to be a bad neighbor in many places, and none more so than Tunbridge. The company has taken an arrogant attitude toward landowners, including Media Borough, and it has shown again and again that it cannot be trusted. It wants a speedy resolution to this easement request, but it has long since lost the right to expect that kind of consideration.
Please contact Media Borough Council. You won’t be able to attend tonight’s council meeting in person, because it will be “virtual” due to Covid-19. But I urge you to submit questions and comments, which you can do via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 610-566-5210 x243.
Note that public comments aren’t presented until the end of the meeting, after business is voted on. There may be an “executive session,” at which legal matters are discussed, following the public meeting. (And the Council may not even have public comments, given the virtual nature of the meeting.) Therefore, you may want to contact Council members ahead of time. You can reach out to the individual members at their email addresses: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org.
The meeting will start at 7:30 tonight and will be livestreamed on Youtube at youtube.com/user/mediaborough.
Update 4-17-20: Thanks to all of you who contacted Media Borough Council. The Council decided not to consider Sunoco’s request at their meeting. Robert Scott, Media Borough Solicitor, wrote a two-line email to Sunoco’s lawyer: “I presented your letter to Borough Council. The Borough has no interest in conveying additional property rights to Sunoco Pipeline, L.P.”