Pipeline supporters, critics speak at hearing

Comments in favor and against the proposed Mariner East II pipeline project were offered Monday night at the Blair County Convention Center where the state Department of Environmental Protection hosted the first of five public hearings.

Supporters told state DEP representatives that the proposed 300-mile statewide pipeline will improve Pennsylvania’s economy by creating jobs and additional access to energy resources, leading to future growth. The line will carry natural gas liquids.

Critics say that Sunoco, the company proposing to build the pipeline, is unfairly seizing private property access rights for an effort that is going to damage the land and environment.

“Stop treating people like us like we’re the enemy,” Elise Gerhart of Huntingdon County told unionized construction workers who wore orange T-shirts to the hearing as a show of support for the pipeline.

Gerhart and her mother, Ellen, were among 14 people providing comment at the hearing which attracted about 100 people.

Both Gerharts spoke of the environmental damage that has already occurred on their 28-acre property, where Sunoco’s hired contractors cut down multiple trees in March. And a map that Sunoco has been using for her property, Ellen Gerhart said, is missing streams and wetlands.

While the state set up Monday’s hearing to receive comments about water-related impacts of the proposed project, it drew additional comments as well.

“This project is important to Pennsylvania’s future,” said David Taylor, president of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association headquartered in Harrisburg.

“Pennsylvania’s economy as a whole will benefit greatly,” said Joe Lundy, chief fiscal officer of Cleveland Brothers Equipment Co., Pittsburgh. His company has added 350 jobs in the last five years because of the Marcellus Shale drilling in southwestern Pennsylvania. Construction of the Mariner East II pipeline, Lundy said, will mean more work and more jobs.

Bob Kutz, president of the Blair-Bedford Central Labor Council, offered his support of the project on behalf of union members, while acknowledging that his own family lost their home to the construction of Route 220.

“This isn’t easy,” Kutz said. “I know that because I lost a home, not just property but a home.”

John Hudson of Altoona, on behalf of the Teamsters, also offered his faith in the ability of those who will build the pipeline.

“These guys are specialists,” Hudson said.

But the Gerharts weren’t the only ones with objections.

“Quit taking land from uncooperative property owners,” Tim Dunlevy of State College said.

“Please look at the big picture and don’t issue these permits,” Melody Fleck of Pine Grove Mills said.

DEP has scheduled additional hearings today in Lebanon, on Wednesday in West Chester, in Harrisburg on Aug. 16 and in Youngwood on Aug. 18.