Pipeline drilling plan draws concerns

Sunoco to purchase 200,000 gallons of water per day

HUNTINGDON — Transparency from local government officials and a potential agreement to sell water to a company building a natural gas pipeline created tension between Huntingdon Borough Council and a large group of residents Tuesday evening.

Some residents sat cross-legged on the floor and spilled out into a hallway.

At the center of the issue is Sunoco Logistics’ ongoing construction of the Mariner East 2 natural-gas pipeline.

The 300-mile underground pipeline will carry natural gas liquids from beyond the state’s western border to a storage and distribution facility in Delaware County’s Marcus Hook area.

Along the way, the pipeline will pass through Blair, Cambria and Huntingdon counties.

Last month, work began in Huntingdon County, where workers must bore beneath Raystown Lake to prepare a passage for the pipeline, said Cynthia Mitchell, public affairs specialist with the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the lake and surrounding land.

Though the pipeline will not pass through Huntingdon Borough, Sunoco officials have asked to purchase up to 200,000 gallons of water per day from the borough to use in the boring process, Sunoco spokesman Jeffrey Shields said.

The water is to be used “in construction, primarily for horizontal directional drilling, which uses a combination of water and bentonite clay (a naturally occurring, nontoxic clay) to lubricate the drill head,” Shields wrote in an email.

Many in attendance at the meeting took issue with this plan because last year, borough residents were told to restrict water use due to drought conditions. Huntingdon resident Jamie Russler was among them.

“This concerns me,” she said of the 200,000-gallon request while remembering the restricted water use. “Water is not as plentiful as we believe.”

Despite that concern, borough officials said the sale of water is not likely to exacerbate drought conditions. They said more than 80 million gallons of water flowed over a local dam on a recent day, and restrictions are not enforced unless that number drops below 16 million gallons for four consecutive weeks.

Tuesday’s meeting began at 7:30 p.m., and, two hours later, residents continued to make public comments, sharing many of the same concerns raised by Russler.

Among the crowd, resident Grant Stewart asked council members to keep these concerns in mind if the water deal comes to a vote.

“I implore you to listen closely to the voices in your community,” he said.

However, many in attendance said they have little faith in council members, who they claim have not been transparent in prior dealings with Sunoco officials.

That argument stems from an April 6 special meeting. Residents said they feel misled by an advertisement in a local newspaper, which said the meeting was being held to discuss a separate bonding issue and “other necessary business.” At that meeting, the Sunoco water deal was discussed.

Olivia Grugan said she intended to follow the Sunoco deal but did not attend the meeting because the advertisement did not mention that issue.

Councilman James Bair disputed that claim, saying the meeting was open to the public, and the catch-all “other necessary business” allowed for talks about the Sunoco deal.

“There is nothing closed about what happened at that meeting,” he said.

But fellow council member Nicole Houck offered a different point of view. Residents should be informed about what will be discussed ahead of public meetings, she said.

“Can we start posting agendas somewhere?” Houck said before being told by other borough officials that posting agendas would be difficult because they are sometimes completed only shortly before meetings begin.

Despite some confusion among residents about what action was taken at the April 6 meeting, Borough Manager William Wheeler said no agreement was made to sell water to Sunoco.

At the April 6 meeting, council members signed a “will-serve letter” only confirming that the borough’s plant could supply the volume of water requested by Sunoco, Wheeler said, assuring the crowd that steps were being taken to protect the borough if a sale is approved.

If a sale is approved, that could mean needed revenue for the borough, Council President David Quarry said. That revenue could be used to repair aging infrastructure, he said.

Quarry argued that Sunoco would turn elsewhere for the water and indicated that the company is currently purchasing water from Blair County, though that could not immediately be confirmed.

Councilwoman Donna Isenberg also argued for the sale, explaining much of the water that flows over a local dam is not used.

“You can’t save it,” she said. “It just goes down the river.”

She also claimed that many community members supported the sale of water to Sunoco, but they “are afraid to come to this meeting.” That comment was meant with jeers from the crowd.

As the meeting continued into the night, dozens of resident expressed their opposition to the water deal, as well as the pipeline’s construction, which they claim will impact the natural landscape, as well as quality of life. Only two people in attendance spoke in favor of the deal.

“There is people here in the borough that approve of this,” one man said before calling those opposing the sale “liberals.”

Borough officials said the water deal will have to pass through a number of meetings before a decision is made. The timeline for those meetings was not immediately made clear.

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.