Sound walls and pipeline construction at Glen Riddle Station apartments. The Tunbridge apartment complex is in the background on the other side of the road.

Glen Riddle Station, L.P., the company that owns the Glen Riddle Station (GRS) apartment complex, has filed suit against Middletown Township. You can read the text of the suit here. The suit asks the judge to require Middletown to halt Sunoco’s pipeline work at GRS until it complies with fire code.

Sunoco’s work at GRS. The easement for the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system) runs right through the GRS apartment complex. Sunoco’s original plan involved using horizontal directional drilling (HDD) to start drilling behind the neighboring Tunbridge apartment complex and drill under the Tunbridge apartment grounds, under Glen Riddle Road, and then under the GRS apartment grounds. That would have involved little, if any, surface work at GRS.

But Sunoco ran into serious trouble with the Tunbridge drill site. After months of drilling, including four months of noisy 24/7 work at Tunbridge and multiple frac-outs on the Tunbridge grounds, Sunoco ran into rock that it couldn’t drill through and had to abandon the effort. Work was stopped and the borehole was grouted. (Soon after, a group of 15 Tunbridge residents filed a class-action suit against Sunoco for the massive disruptions they had endured during the drilling.)

Sunoco decided the only way to complete the pipeline was to use open trench construction. That meant trenching through both the grounds of both apartment complexes. The 50-foot easement through GRS did not provide enough space for the work. The apartment owners refused to grant an additional workspace easement, so in May of 2020, Sunoco went to court and obtained an additional 50-foot temporary easement on each side of the original easement via eminent domain.

Middletown secretly approved Sunoco’s plan even though it does not meet fire code. Sunoco then came up with a plan that involved erecting sound walls along the edges of the temporary easement. The company then proceeded to construct the sound walls and start the trenching. Apparently, the Township declared the plan to be “safe” in a decision process that was not public and that GRS was not informed of. But (according to the suit) the sound walls violate three mandatory sections of the International Fire Code, which Middletown Township has adopted. For a complex like RGS, the code requires:

  • Two separate access roads for fire trucks to reach each building
  • Gates in the sound walls to let emergency vehicles through
  • Adequate turnaround space for fire trucks

According to the suit, Sunoco’s plan (and the sound walls it has erected in accordance with the plan) violates those requirements. The drone image above suggests how Sunoco’s work is impeding vehicle traffic.

What the suit is asking for. The GRS lawsuit asks the judge for two things. First, GRS wants the judge to declare as unconstitutional the procedure Middletown used for determining that Sunoco’s plan is “safe”. As result of Middletown’s action, GRS residents’ safety and GRS property are both jeopardized. GRS did not get a chance to participate in that decision, which (the suit says) is a violation of basic due process.

Second, GRS wants the judge to direct Middletown Township “to stop anyone from any work on the Glen Riddle Station, L.P. Property until compliance with the International Fire Code is achieved….”

GRS wants its court costs paid by the township, plus “actual, compensatory, and punitive damages” as well as the cost of extra security staff GRS has had to employ during construction.

Status of the case. The case was filed on January 21 in federal district court in Philadelphia and was assigned to Judge Paul S. Diamond. On January 26, the judge issued an order telling GRS to serve Sunoco with a copy of the suit. The order also requires GRS “and any interested party” to file a response addressing several issues raised by the case:

  • Does US District Court have jurisdiction in this matter?
  • Does the court have the authority to direct Middletown as the suit requests?
  • Must Sunoco be involved in this litigation?
  • Must the court abstain from hearing this matter?
  • Does GRS have standing to bring this suit?

The response must be filed by February 2.

Implications for the pipeline. If the judge finds that Middletown must stop Sunoco’s work until the fire code is met, that will probably be the beginning of a drawn-out legal battle. Sunoco’s current plan is probably incompatible with the fire code, and it may not be possible to come up with a plan that is compatible. If work at GRS is actually stopped, it could lead to major delays. Neither the 16-inch nor the 20-inch pipeline is complete in this area. At the back of the GRS complex, the pipeline will have to run under a railroad bed and through the rocky outcroppings, which could lead to additional construction problems.