Clean Air Council and Luzerne County Group Challenge Compressor Station in Court

BY ELIZABETH SKRAPITS (STAFF WRITER)

Environmentalists challenge west wyoming gas compressor station

Local environmentalists are challenging UGI Energy Services' appeal of the Luzerne County Zoning Hearing Board's denial of a special exception to build a natural gas compressor station in West Wyoming.

Through their attorney Jordan Yeager, Luzerne County Citizens for Clean Air, the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council and 32 residents recently filed a cross-appeal, asking the county court to uphold the zoning board's ruling and consider the opponents' additional reasons the project shouldn't be allowed.
On Sept. 4, the zoning hearing board denied UGI a special exception to build a compressor station with a utility building, yard and 150-foot radio tower on a 14-acre property off North Ridge Lane, near the Kingston Township border, in an agricultural zone. The facility would pressurize natural gas from a pipeline connecting with northern tier wells, then route the gas through the Transco interstate pipeline and an existing UGI Penn Natural Gas system to customers in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area.
 
During the Aug. 7 zoning hearing, approximately 44 residents testified as to concerns about health, safety and property values. UGI's witnesses consisted of two professional engineers, an air quality specialist and UGI's director of operations.
The findings released by zoning board attorney Stephen A. Menn after the hearing note that "Special Exception is not an exception to the Luzerne County zoning ordinance but is a use which is permitted unless under the circumstances the use would adversely affect the community."
 
Neither UGI nor the opponents "provided any evidence as to the safety of the operation … or of any direct health detriment to those who live in West Wyoming or neighboring communities," the board stated.
 
However, the board noted, "The overall concerns of how this facility would affect the community was convincing to the extent the Board Members believed that these objectives could not be met by (UGI) and its impact might be greater than might be expected under normal circumstances."
 
The ordinance does not define either natural gas compressor stations or utility buildings. The board determined a utility building is part of a utility, and that, essentially, UGI Energy Services did not qualify as a utility.
UGI appealed the board's ruling on Oct. 3.
 
The company argued in its appeal that, per testimony at the hearing, the closest house was half a mile from the site; that the facility and its three compressor engines would meet or be "well below" federal emissions limits; that noise control measures would be used; and that the facility would have numerous safety controls and a detailed emergency response plan would be prepared.
 
The appeal also states the zoning board's decision was "arbitrary, capricious, contrary to law and prior precedent," since in 2010 the board approved a compressor station and communication tower for Encana Oil & Gas USA Inc. in an agricultural zone.
 
In the cross-appeal, the opponents argue they did provide evidence that the compressor station is inappropriate for the site.
Pollutants from the facility "threaten the health, safety and welfare of surrounding landowners not only because of the type of emissions produced, but also because of the local topography and wind patterns."
 
Although in agreement with the board's ruling, the opponents criticized particulars of the board's decision in the cross-appeal.
The opponents state that UGI's application should have been denied because a compressor station is an industrial use not allowed in an A-1 Agricultural district under the zoning ordinance.
 
They question whether the Sept. 4 meeting was properly advertised, fault the board for not providing them with complete copies of the exhibits and condemn the board's decision not to allow certain interested parties to testify. For example, people from Kingston Township were not allowed to take the stand, although several residents' properties are very close to the proposed project.
 
A hearing date for the appeal has not been set.
 
eskrapits@citizensvoice.com, 570-821-2072
 

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