Columbia Gas Thumbs Nose at PA Town, But Officials Prepared to Enforce Rules

By Pamela Sroka-Holzmann | The Express-Times

Forks Township supervisors Thursday told residents they would take action on Columbia Gas Co.’s expanded compressor station if the project doesn’t adhere to township ordinances.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has oversight of the project, in December allowed Columbia Gas Transmission to move forward with plans for the East Side Expansion project.

The project seeks to more than quadruple the horsepower of the compressor station, from roughly 5,000 horsepower to 22,000. Columbia spokesman Brendan Neal previously said the project is intended to meet increased demand for natural gas.

It includes 19 miles of new pipes in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and Gloucester County, New Jersey, as well as modifications to six Columbia facilities, including the one on Klein Road in Forks.

Forks officials in early December unanimously passed a resolution placing restrictions on Columbia Gas Co. if the company gains final approval to expand. However, as of this week, supervisors had yet to see a preliminary/final plan for the project.

Township solicitor Wendy Nicolosi said she recently received a form letter from Columbia Gas saying the company wasn’t mandated to comply with township regulations and “couldn’t guarantee” compliance. She also explained the company submitted its application to FERC in 2013 and by December 2013, supervisors missed the deadline to intervene before they even knew about the project.

Municipal officials in Milford, Pike County, intervened on a similar compressor expansion project proposed by Columbia Gas and that project already has gained the go-ahead to begin construction, according to Nicolosi.

“It would be a tough challenge to fight,” Nicolosi told supervisors. “Anything regulated by the federal government, we could not regulate.”

Board Vice Chairman Ed Moore said the township is doing everything it can do.

Supervisor Dan Martyak said: “I think we should get a little more crisp on what we think we’ll do, but not extend ourselves too far. … We’ll never shut down this plan.”

But residents attempting to block the project urged the township to do more.

“What happens when people begin to get ill?” asked resident Joan Deen. “Asthma, joint pain … people who have been healthy find themselves taking sick days from work, go on disability, medical bills are incurred and their child now has respiratory problems?”

Brad Stout, who lives next to the compressor station, described the sound coming from the station as a “747 jetliner” right above his house.

Supervisor Erik Chuss asked the residents what they wanted the township to do for them.

“We have very limited control over this,” he said. “Lawsuits are long shots.”

“It would help if all five of you were in agreement — you have some realistic concerns about the size of the thing that is going up here,” Deen said.

Supervisor Bob Egolf argued, “We don’t know what this is they’re bringing in. We truly don’t know.”

In the end, supervisors said they would look to Tim Weis, zoning officer, to make sure Columbia Gas doesn’t violate township ordinances. They advised the public to call Weis with any issues after the project is completed.

“We would (then) be able to get some action in place as we would for any situation,” Moore said.

Scott Castleman, a Columbia spokesman, did not immediately return an email seeking comment Thursday evening.

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