West Goshen toughens zoning rules for pipeline companies

Posted: September 04, 2014

In response to Sunoco Pipeline L.P.'s plans for a pumping station, a Chester County town passed a series of amendments to its zoning code Tuesday that will make it harder for pipeline companies to win approval for their projects.

Under the amendments West Goshen Township supervisors approved at a special public hearing, the township will restrict pipeline companies to industrial areas, require them to prove their projects are necessary as public utilities, and force them to meet a series of requirements regarding safety and emergency planning.

However, the amendments are essentially legally "meaningless" if the state grants applicants exemptions from local zoning laws, as Sunoco Pipeline is seeking to do, township solicitor Kristin Camp told the roughly 70 residents at the hearing.

"There's nothing our local zoning ordinance can do to trump state statutes," Camp said.

The new, stricter amendments would be in effect if an applicant came directly to the township for zoning approval. The amendments could also work in West Goshen's favor because Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission, which can grant local zoning-law exemptions, considers residents' wishes when it makes its decisions.

Also, if the PUC were to grant an exemption, the amendments could help the township in appealing, which the supervisors have vowed to do.

Some residents said they were worried pipeline companies would see loopholes in the new amendments and wanted township officials to make several other changes to the zoning code.

"We need to be very careful when we consider adopting something that doesn't have the exact proper wording," said Tom Casey, a resident and director of the Chester County Community Coalition, which residents formed in April in response to Sunoco Pipeline's plans.

The supervisors said they voted to pass the amendments Tuesday to strengthen the zoning code as soon as possible, in case pipeline companies were thinking of filing new applications. They said they would add residents' proposed tweaks to the amendments and vote to approve those changes at an Oct. 8 meeting.

"We are aware of the ordinance that was considered by West Goshen Township tonight, but we will reserve comment as we have an active matter pending before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission," said Jeff Shields, a Sunoco spokesman.

West Goshen officials developed the amendments after Sunoco Pipeline withdrew its application to the township this spring for a pumping station near Route 202 and Boot Road. The company instead requested exempted status from the state, a move it said was more appropriate given the services it provides.

Sunoco Pipeline plans to build pump and valve control stations in 31 municipalities along its 299-mile pipeline project to transport Marcellus Shale natural gas liquids.

In March, Sunoco Pipeline asked the PUC to consider its pipeline a public utility and to exempt it from local zoning laws. In late July, two PUC administrative law judges recommended that the commission reject Sunoco Pipeline's request. The PUC has yet to make a decision.

Many residents are upset Sunoco Pipeline could even apply for exemption from local laws. Township supervisors "heard that loud and clear and decided to make changes," Camp said.

The township has asked the PUC not to grant Sunoco Pipeline's request.


mbond@philly.com

610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond

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