As I wrote in my last blog post, the Board of Supervisors of West Cornwall, a small township in Lebanon County, recently asked their lawyer to draw up an amendment to the local zoning ordinance to exempt Sunoco from the normal “conditional use” zoning procedure. Several years ago, Sunoco built a Mariner East pumping station in an area zoned for “conditional use” that only allows industrial uses after a public hearing. West Cornwall issued Sunoco a permit without going through the hearing process.
Sunoco’s pumping station building is still standing today, and it is operating, although the courts have determined it to be illegal. The new zoning amendment would allow “public utilities” (read “Sunoco”) to skip the normal procedure.
On Monday (February 8), one of the three Township Supervisors in West Cornwall introduced a motion at the Supervisors’ monthly public meeting to publicize the amendment that would give Sunoco a free pass. Publicizing is the first step required before enacting it. That’s when the remarkable event happened.
Neither of the other two Supervisors would second the motion. Since the rules of order require a motion to be seconded before it can be discussed and voted on, it simply died.
What next? My understanding is that this will probably mean Sunoco will have to go through the standard conditional use process after all. There will have to be a public hearing, where the issues surrounding the pumping station can be aired. The future of the building remains in doubt.
This situation, assuming it holds, gives me the sense that public opinion in the area has now turned against Sunoco to such an extent that the local officials, mindful of the voters, can no longer simply vote the way Sunoco wants them to. Sunoco’s argument, that the Mariner East pipeline is good for the public, is no longer believed—not by the public, and not by the elected officials.
In Lebanon County, this shift is the result of a long, difficult, and expensive legal and publicity campaign on the part of a very small organization, the Concerned Citizens of Lebanon County (CCLC). Monday night’s events are evidence that even a small group, if it is determined, persistent, and has the truth on its side, can take on a giant corporation and win. Groups all across the state can learn from what CCLC has shown us.
Of course, this is just one skirmish in a long war. There is no certainty that CCLC will win in the end. But it marks an important shift in the contest. Sunoco has been put on the defensive.