The Lebanon County commissioners are in discussions to set up meetings with representatives from two natural gas pipeline companies which have proposed major projects that will cross Lebanon County.
However, the public won’t be on the guest list and neither will the media.
Sunoco Logistics is in the process of re-purposing its 350-mile Mariner East Pipeline to carry liquid natural gas products, like propane and ethane, from shale-gas rich western Pennsylvania east to its Marcus Hook refinery near Philadelphia. The company is also planning to build one and possibly two lines parallel to the existing path, which crosses six county municipalities.
Williams Partners, headquartered in Tulsa, Okla., is in the process of seeking approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for its 183-mile Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline project that would cut south through Lebanon County, also carrying natural gas products from the western part of the state to its distribution hub in Chester County.
The two companies now share more in common than projects in Lebanon County.
Just last week Energy Transfer Equity, the parent company of Sunoco, announced it had purchased Williams, making it the third largest energy distribution company in North America and one of the five largest worldwide, according to its news release.
The commissioners sent letters requesting public meetings to the companies in August, shortly after representatives from two pipeline opponents, Lebanon Pipeline Awareness and Concerned Citizens of Lebanon County, urged them to become more active in the pipeline projects.
The commissioners’ requests were rebuffed by Williams and Sunoco, but the companies have separately offered to meet with them in a controlled setting that would include other pertinent municipal officials and representatives from the two anti-pipeline groups. Members of the general public and media would be excluded.
In a letter responding to the commissioners’ request for a public meeting, Cindy Ivey, Williams’ public outreach coordinator, sited the company’s multiple contacts with impacted landowners, the open house it held last year, and meetings held with the boards of organizations like the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce, Lebanon Valley Economic Development Corporation and Lebanon County Conservation District, as examples of its effort to educate and meet the public.
Instead of a public meeting, Ivey’s letter proposes gathering with the commissioners and whatever county administrators the board feels would benefit from an informational meeting. Also invited would be two members from Lebanon Pipeline Awareness and Lebanon County Concerned Citizens.
“We feel that such a meeting would be the best way to have a substantive conversation about the project and answer questions about the overall project and next steps in the regulatory process,” Ivey wrote.
Sunoco replied to the commissioners with a similar letter, suggesting that officials from impacted municipalities be included, along with a dozen representatives from the anti-pipeline groups. Like Williams’ conditions, the media and general public were not invited.
Those conditions were not to the liking of Pam Bishop, a spokeswoman from Concerned Citizens of Lebanon County who addressed the commissioners last week.
“We suggest that there should be public meetings where all the public can attend. Not a specific group. Not even if it was our group. And they can ask questions and get answers and share information,” said Bishop, a retired attorney from Mt. Gretna. “The pipeline projects will affect every member and citizen in Lebanon County and they should have access to information that they need.”
While the commissioners maintained they would prefer to have public meetings, they said they understood the companies’ reluctance and were willing to abide by their conditions because it would benefit the county and its residents.
“I think it is important that our staff get our information,” Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz said. “GIS, for exact coordinates, Emergency Management Agency, Planning, (and) Assessment these are all county departments that are going to be impacted directly with these pipelines. And they need valid information in order to do internal planning and respond accordingly, to us and the public.”
Commissioner Bill Ames urged the members of the anti-pipeline groups to participate.
“Your request was for more information and this is at least one way you can at least have some representatives right there with the pipeline folks, and you can hopefully get answers to your questions,” he said.
The question of whether holding such a meeting would violate the Sunshine Law will be discussed with county solicitor David Warner before any meeting dates are set, the commissioners said.
In the absence of a public meeting with pipeline company officials, Bishop suggested the commissioners sponsor their own informational meeting with representatives of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, as the Chester County Board of Commissioners has done.
The commissioners were non-committal to that suggestion without learning more details from Chester County officials about how that meeting was have conducted.
The commissioners have cooperated with members of the pipeline-opposition groups since they asked the commissioners in July to take a more active role in the two pipeline projects.
In addition to requesting public meetings with the companies, the actions taken by the commissioners at the groups’ request included filing a letter with FERC asking it to require Williams to make additional studies of the sinkhole-prone areas where the proposed pipeline crosses in North Annville, South Annville, and South Londonderry townships.
The commissioners also created a pipeline information link on the county’s website, lebcounty.org, that includes documents, like the letter to FERC and Williams’ response. To find the link, click on the information column on the website’s home page.
This article was written by John Latimer from Lebanon Daily News, Pa. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.