On March 9, 2016 the full Commonwealth Court heard oral argument on the first appeal of a decision on the Sunoco Pipeline Mariner East 2 pipeline(s). The arguments focused on exclusive Federal jurisdiction as precluding Pennsylvania PUC regulation. The consolidated three cases remain on an expedited schedule and could reach a decision within one to three months.

Court weighs eminent domain in N. Middleton pipeline fight

A Cumberland County judge was wrong when he ruled that Sunoco Logistics can invoke eminent domain to seize land for its proposed Mariner East II pipeline, a lawyer for the owners of three targeted properties told a state appeals court panel Wednesday.

Judge Edward E. Guido found in his October decision that Sunoco had authority under state law for condemnations. But his logic was faulty because construction of the pipeline falls under federal authority, which does not allow the use of eminent domain for such projects, the landowners’ attorney, Michael Faherty, told Commonwealth Court judges hearing the appeal of Guido’s ruling.

Sunoco lawyers Alan Boynton and Christopher Lewis countered that the pipeline project, from Ohio through West Virginia and Pennsylvania into Delaware, has federal approval and that of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. That PUC sanction allows the firm to condemn land for the pipeline, they argued.

North Middleton Twp. residents Pamela and R. Scott Martin, Douglas and Lyndsey Fitzgerald, and Harvey and Anna Nickey challenged Sunoco’s bid to take their land for the pipeline, which Faherty said would carry mostly “hazardous” liquid byproducts of natural gas production, materials used for the production of plastics.

Guido concluded that Sunoco has eminent-domain power to secure easements for the pipeline because the project would provide for the delivery of propane, ethane and other products in Pennsylvania. Since the PUC regulates such products, Sunoco is a public utility with property-seizure power, Guido found.

Faherty argued Wednesday that the pipeline is an interstate project that falls under federal law, which bars the use of eminent domain for pipelines that transmit the material to be shipped through Mariner East II. Sunoco can reroute the pipeline around the property of owners who don’t want to sell, he said.

Boynton and Lewis countered that the pipeline project falls under federal and state authority and so has a PUC grant of eminent domain power.

A ruling by the state judges likely would be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Written by: Matt Miller for Patriot News