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Pipeline gains victory, landowners promise an appeal

This blog has written several times about the legal and environmental issues swirling around Sunoco Logistics' plans to construct the Mariner East 3 Pipeline across Pennsylvania to the Delaware River just north of Philadelphia. Landowners in the path of the pipeline have voiced numerous objections to the environmental cost of the pipeline and the negotiating tactics used by Sunoco to acquire right-of-way for the pipeline. Now, a judge in Lebanon County has granted a significant victory to Sunoco.

One of the issues raised by the pipeline is whether Sunoco is a "public utility" and therefore entitled to use the power of eminent domain without the owner's consent. The judge, in a decision released on March 24, 2016, found that Sunoco Logistics was a public utility within the meaning of Pennsylvania's eminent domain statute and therefore entitled to invoke the power of eminent domain to force landowners to sell their property to it. The property owners argued that most of the natural gas shipped through the pipeline would be exported to other countries and that the pipeline did not serve the interests of Pennsylvania's citizens. The pipeline's sponsor met this argument by changing shipping operations to ensure that the gas would be loaded into the pipeline and offloaded within the state's borders, thereby making it an intrastate project.

This decision is not likely to be the last word in the dispute. The landowners have said that they intend to appeal this decision. Also, a number of similar cases are working themselves through the state court system. The coming of summer will result in pressure for a decision because Sonoco Logistics wants to begin construction as soon as possible.

Anyone who owns property that is or may be the subject of an eminent domain proceeding may wish to consult an experienced real estate lawyer for an evaluation of the case, an enumeration of strategies to stop the project and tactics to ensure recovery of the property's fair market value of the land if the project moves forward.

Source: Lebanon Daily News, "Lebanon judge backs Sunoco in pipeline dispute," Daniel Walmer, April 8, 2016

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