Chester County Commissioners Michelle Kichline, Kathi Cozzone and Terence Farrell are announcing details of two days of hearings that will occur in Chester County so residents and municipal officials, parties to the case, can testify locally about their safety concerns as well as demands that Sunoco Pipeline cease construction of the Mariner East pipeline.
“When the Administrative Law Judge presented an opportunity for testimony locally, the Chester County Commissioners offered to hold the hearings in the Historic Courthouse,” said Chair of the Chester County Board of Commissioners Michelle Kichline. “We are pleased to host such a historic moment in our county, so our constituents’ voices can be heard. A Chester County Commissioner will be present during the entire proceedings.”
The hearings will be held this Wednesday, October 23, 2019 and Thursday October 24, 2019, beginning at 9am daily in Courtroom No. 1 at the Chester County Historic Courthouse in West Chester. The proceedings come on the heels of the Commissioners’ most recent tour of the pipeline in Exton on Friday, accompanied by concerned residents.
Testimony will be heard from residents of Chester County and Delaware County, as well as public safety officials, emergency management coordinators, school superintendents and homeowners associations who were among the original complainants to contend that Sunoco failed to create a legally compliant public safety program for the Mariner East pipeline project and should permanently cease operation. They will testify before an Administrative Law Judge presiding on behalf of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), which recently lifted an injunction against pipeline construction in Chester County. The PUC has jurisdiction over the safety and adequacy of public utility projects, compliance with state and federal regulations and potential safety violations.
Absent from the hearings will be expert witnesses, who are scheduled to testify in July 2020 in Harrisburg, by court order. The July testimony will include Chester County Emergency Services personnel who will address the public safety and emergency planning concerns that have prompted the Chester County Commissioners, the Chester County District Attorney’s Office, residents and local municipalities to take legal action.
“Without a doubt, the County Commissioners as well as our constituents are concerned about the timeline for these proceedings which places a decision likely a year from now,” said Chester County Commissioner Terence Farrell. “But we are appreciative that the Court has given an opportunity for lay witness testimony to take place without the need to travel to Harrisburg.”
Among those scheduled to testify is Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone, who has been involved with pipeline issues for several years and sat on Governor Tom Wolf’s Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force. She will testify in her personal capacity about living near pipeline construction, as well as her son’s high school being within close proximity to the pipeline. Commissioner Cozzone cannot comment in an official capacity on these proceedings due to her scheduled testimony as a Chester County resident.
At the end of February, the Chester County Commissioners announced that the County planned to take legal action against Sunoco Pipeline, LP. It began with a Petition to Intervene filed in March in ongoing pipeline proceedings before the PUC and the termination of two temporary easements on the Chester County Library property and a portion of the Chester Valley Trail that were granted to Sunoco in 2017.
In April, Commissioners Kichline, Cozzone, and Farrell filed a lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas against Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Sunoco Pipeline, seeking to block construction on the County Library property and trail. The move came after the Commissioners blasted Sunoco in March for releasing a heavily redacted and unusable version of an emergency plan. Chester County’s Department of Emergency Services has since received the information they requested, in a usable format, which has been used to review Chester County’s own long-standing, all-hazards plan.
“We continue to monitor Sunoco’s construction activities and engage our independent pipeline engineering experts when issues are brought to our attention, to ensure the safety of our residents,” said Kichline. “We have also established a Pipeline Safety Advisory Board and have taken the lead in ordering a review of all potential threats and hazards related to the Mariner East pipeline, including the county’s readiness to meet any issues that arise.”
Further information can be found on the pipeline project at the Chester County Planning Commission’s Pipeline Information Center at https://www.chescoplanning.org/.