In April, Sunoco proposed to buy an additional permanent easement from Media Borough for construction of the Dragonpipe (the Mariner East pipeline system). The land in question is along Chester Creek, just south of the Tunbridge Apartments. Although it is in Middletown Township, not Media, it is owned by Media.
Media’s Borough Council turned down Sunoco’s request. In a terse two-sentence email, Media’s solicitor told Sunoco that the Borough had no interest in conveying the land to Sunoco. The unsolicited check that Sunoco submitted was returned.
Now, there is evidence that Sunoco is planning to proceed with construction even in the absence of any right to be on the land. The company has filed new plans with the DEP that clearly show this. If Sunoco actually goes ahead with these plans, they will be installing a pipeline on property they have no right to use, and trespassing to do so. Of course, Sunoco has brazenly violated laws and regulations frequently in the past, but mostly out of sight. If they do it this time, it will be in plain view.
The image below shows the area in question.
The change of plans. You may be wondering what makes me think Sunoco has adopted such a plan. The answer is that Sunoco has documented it in materials submitted to the Borough of Media and in plans filed with the DEP. Let’s take a look at what these evolving land issues look like on the ground.
Please note: the following diagrams are not precise. They represent my best efforts to compile and reproduce lines that appear on various Sunoco documents. My version will inevitably be off by a few feet here and there, but I believe it is a good approximation of the facts on the ground. If you would like more precision, please consult the documents linked from this blog post and previous ones.
Before 2015, Sunoco had a 50-foot-wide easement from the Borough of Media that looked like Diagram A. It had a larger northern section and a smaller southern section, separated by the corner of a property not owned by the Borough (the “Murray property”). In fact, there may be some ambiguity about where, exactly, the easement runs. It is marked on Sunoco’s diagrams as “proposed”. The areas outlined by green lines are the permanent easement areas.
In 2015, Sunoco purchased rights to an additional temporary workspace easement from the Borough. That left the situation shown in Diagram B. The yellow lines show the additional work areas for which Sunoco obtained the temporary easement. That is probably the situation that exists today (unless the temporary easement has expired—which is possible—in which case it has reverted to Diagram A).
Two things have happened in 2020 to influence the situation. In April, Sunoco approached the Borough of Media to both enlarge its temporary workspace and to obtain more land for its permanent easement. The areas Sunoco requested are shown in Diagram C. The requested expansion of the permanent easement is the dashed green line. The requested expansion of the temporary work area is the dashed yellow line. The Borough turned down Sunoco’s request for these areas. (If you are interested in more detail than Diagram C provides, you can find it in the previous blog post about Sunoco’s proposal, mentioned above.)
Despite being turned down by Media Borough in April, Sunoco filed new construction plans with the DEP on June 22 (the link for them is in paragraph 3, above). In these new plans, the property that Media had refused to discuss with Sunoco is now marked as “permanent easement”. On top of that, the plans also show a new pipeline route (not present in previous plans) going through that property. That is the red line in Diagram D.
Furthermore, before-and-after drone images suggest that Sunoco has been clearing trees and brush from the land that Media Borough did not give them rights to.
Is there a problem with the valve station location? In addition to its current plans for construction on land where it has no right to do so, there are indications that Sunoco may already have done so in the past. In the permanent easement, immediately adjacent to the area where Sunoco asked Media Borough for additional ground, there is a complex valve station involving three pipelines that are already operational. In the diagrams above, you can see that the rectangular valve station extends into the area where Sunoco wanted an additional permanent easement.
I will grant that my diagrams lack precision, but it certainly looks as if part of Sunoco’s valve station sits on ground that is outside the permanent easement that they already do have. It is possible that there is some kind of error or misunderstanding underpinning my diagrams, although it seems unlikely. To determine whether my diagrams are accurate, a professional survey is warranted.
To summarize the major points of this post:
- Sunoco is claiming rights that it doesn’t have to a piece of Media Borough property
- Sunoco is preparing to construct a pipeline on the Media Borough land that it doesn’t have rights to
- Sunoco has begun clearing that land
- Sunoco may have already built a permanent structure on land where it has only a temporary easement
What needs to happen now? Most of the questions raised by this blog post can be answered by a simple, inexpensive land survey to define the easement boundaries, and regular monitoring of the area. The surveyor could clearly stake out the key areas mentioned here.
If I were on the Media Borough Council, here are some questions I would want answers to:
- Where are the boundaries of the original permanent easement? They should be marked.
- Where are the boundaries of the temporary work area? They should be marked too.
- What, if anything, has Sunoco done to Media’s land? Has anything been built? Has land been cleared? What steps does the Borough need to take to protect its land?
The first step toward answering these questions is a survey. This land is owned by the people of Media; and if I were their elected representative, I would feel an obligation to protect it from illegal use and preserve it for future generations.
Urgent! Here’s what you can do to help stop this pipeline. The final “Safety 7” hearings before the PUC begin next week, on September 29. The PUC will rule on whether Sunoco’s emergency plans are sufficient (they clearly are not) and whether Mariner East can be allowed to operate. Although the lawyer is offering his services for free, funds are urgently needed for court costs and expert witness fees. Please help support the Safety 7 case. Any amount, small or large, is a help. Details are on the Safety 7 GoFundMe site here.