Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone Among Those to Testify About Daily Life Along Pipeline
The first of two days of local hearings on the Mariner East pipeline included impassioned testimony from Chester County and Delaware County residents and officials about their safety concerns, as well as demands that Sunoco Pipeline cease construction of the Mariner East pipeline.
County Commissioners Michelle Kichline, Kathi Cozzone and Terence Farrell climbed the steps of the Chester County Historic Courthouse in West Chester alongside residents who are parties to the proceedings.
“A Chester County Commissioner was present during all of today’s proceedings, and will continue to be so as hearings continue Thursday,” said Chair of the Chester County Board of Commissioners Michelle Kichline. “Today’s testimony tells the personal stories that fuel the County’s continued demands for Sunoco to implement an early detection and advanced notification system to alert residents of any problems; the addition of odorants to products so that leaks can be detected; and an independent life study performed on the efficacy of the pipes in the ground.”
The Chester County Commissioners offered to hold the hearings in Chester County after the Administrative Law Judge presiding over them allowed for local testimony instead of in Harrisburg, PA. Two weeks ago, Sunoco asked the Judge to prevent testimony from lay witnesses who would offer “inadmissible, irrelevant, immaterial, and/or unduly repetitive” statements. The request was denied in part.
Nine residents of Chester County and Delaware County were scheduled to testify Wednesday, seven of whom 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 spoke 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.
Eric Friedman, president of the Andover Homeowners' Association in Thornbury Township, PA, was the first to testify, and his testimony lasted throughout the first half of the day’s hearing. He described the 42-acre tract containing 39 homes where he lives. Friedman shared results of a study conducted by Quest Consultants on maximum hazard distances for the Mariner East pipeline. He said that based on the study, "My understanding is that every residence inside the Andover subdivision and many outside it are potentially in the fatality zone.”
Dr. Emilie Lonardi, Superintendent of Downingtown Area School District, testified on the safety of Shamona Creek Elementary School, including the need for an early detection system in case of an emergency.
“Parents ask me all the time, ‘Are my kids safe at Shamona Creek?’ I cannot look them in the eye and say ‘yes,’” said Lonardi.
The hearings allow for lay witnesses only. Expert witnesses 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.
“While we appreciate the opportunity for lay witness testimony here at home, the timeline for these proceedings places a decision likely a year from now, even as pipeline construction continues and draws closer to completion. This is extremely frustrating for all of us in Chester County,” said Chester County Commissioner Terence Farrell.
Rebecca Britton, of Uwchlan Township, is scheduled to testify Thursday and spoke outside the courtroom about her experiences living 450 feet from the pipeline.
”My children and I spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week between home and school in blast zones,” said Britton. “I feel a lot of weight on me, representing the public, so it’s emotional.”
Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone is also scheduled to testify on Thursday and will describe her personal experience living near pipeline construction, as well as sending her son to high school in close proximity of the pipeline. Commissioner Cozzone cannot comment in an official capacity on these proceedings due to her participation in testimony as a Chester County resident. She has been involved with pipeline issues for several years and sat on Governor Tom Wolf’s Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force.
The Chester County Commissioners continue to utilize an independent pipeline engineering expert to review concerns raised by residents as construction continues in Chester County’s usually quiet neighborhoods. In addition, the Commissioners have ordered the Department of Emergency Services to oversee a comprehensive, independent and scientific evaluation of all hazards and threats concerning the Mariner East pipeline. The evaluation will verify that first responders in Chester County have the most comprehensive emergency preparedness plans.
In August, the Commissioners created a Pipeline Safety Advisory Board which will bring residents and industry together with emergency response officials to review pipeline safety actions throughout Chester County and make recommendations to the Commissioners for action. As part of the Commissioners’ commitment to listening to residents, the Commissioners authorized five new positions in the Department of Emergency Services to focus on increasing communication, about all incidents, to the public.
Finally, in September the Commissioners submitted comprehensive comments to the PUC about ways to enhance pipeline safety. Those comments will be considered by the PUC as they consider changes to pipeline safety regulations.
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.
This week’s hearings continue Thursday at 9am in Courtroom No. 1 at the Chester County Historic Courthouse in West Chester.
Further information can be found on the pipeline project at the Chester County Planning Commission’s Pipeline Information Center at https://www.chescoplanning.org/.