Tuesday is judgment day for UGI Energy Services‚?? plan to build a natural gas compressor station in West Wyoming.
The hotly contested proposal is awaiting zoning approval from the Luzerne County Zoning Hearing Board, which is set to render a decision at the Luzerne County Courthouse at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The three-member board heard more than five hours of testimony from UGI representatives supporting and local residents, elected officials and environmental advocates passionately opposed to the project at an August 7 hearing.
UGI Energy Services is seeking a special exception to build a station containing three natural-gas fueled compressors, natural gas meters, storage tanks, an odorant building and associated equipment on a 14-acre plot of land in an A1 agricultural district off Fire Cut Road that borders Kingston Township. The company also needs a variance for a radio communication tower up to 100 feet tall.
UGI hopes to begin construction in the spring on the compressor station and the associated Auburn pipeline, which will extend south from Susquehanna County into West Wyoming. The company anticipates completing both projects by fall 2013.
The board will review written summaries of testimony made at the Aug. 7 hearing prior to rendering its decision Tuesday but will not accept new testimony.
Despite that, outspoken opponent of the project Nancy Dolan of Exeter, a member of Luzerne County Citizens for Clean Air, said she plans to attend to hear the outcome herself, and expects at least some others to do so, too.
‚??I think I‚??ve seen enough people that are concerned about it that want to hear the board‚??s decision and what they have to say,‚?Ě Dolan said.
‚??It affects so many people,‚?Ě she added. ‚??It affects me; it affects other people. What they‚??re asking for is to use agricultural land for industrial uses, and if that is permitted by the zoning board of Luzerne County, what is the point of having zoning at all?
‚??The intent of zoning is to protect citizens; the health, safety, welfare and property value of citizens in Luzerne County, and if you‚??re going to allow industrial, polluting operations in areas with dense populations, then we have to seriously reconsider our laws.‚?Ě
West Wyoming Council President Eileen Cipriani said she also will attend to hear the decision. The council is opposed to the plan and submitted testimony asking the board to reject UGI‚??s application or, failing that, approve it only if the company agrees to meet a list of conditions.
‚??I don‚??t really have a feel for which way they‚??re going to rule,‚?Ě Cipriani said. ‚??Obviously, we said we‚??re opposed to the compressor station and were hoping it doesn‚??t go through, but I really don‚??t know ... . We‚??re just sort of in a holding pattern right now.‚?Ě
Regardless of which way the board‚??s decision swings, the determination may be appealed to the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas by UGI Energy Services, the Borough of West Wyoming and individuals ‚??with standing.‚?Ě Board solicitor Stephen Menn said the concept of legal ‚??standing‚?Ě is open to some interpretation but that the group would at least include all residents of West Wyoming.
‚??Is it possible that someone from Kingston Township has standing? I would say there‚??s a possibility, but I would say somebody from Philadelphia doesn‚??t have standing,‚?Ě Menn said. ‚??I would say that someone from a municipality that‚??s not very close would not have standing.‚?Ě
Spokeswoman Lillian Harris said that if the zoning application is not approved, UGI Energy Services will decide whether to appeal after it reviews the board‚??s written decision.
Zoning approval is also only the first, albeit significant, hurdle UGI must clear before construction can begin. The company also needs permits and approvals from the Luzerne County Planning Commission, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Luzerne Conservation District.
County Planning Commission Director Adrian Merolli said UGI has not yet submitted a subdivision land development plan for the commission‚??s approval, which is contingent on UGI securing zoning approval.
‚??Nothing has been applied for and typically that process takes months,‚?Ě Merolli said. ‚??The engineering review is very detailed and comprehensive.‚?Ě
The Planning Commission‚??s approval is based on UGI satisfying land development requirements such as stormwater control, driveway access and parking availability. While the commission‚??s meetings are public and the commission would consider public input with relevance to the issues considered, Merolli said the commission‚??s decision will be based primarily on technical engineering questions.The main permit UGI will need from DEP is an air quality permit allowing the company to release airborne emissions from the compressor station.
DEP will base its decision on emissions guidelines set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, said DEP Northeast Regional Office spokeswoman Colleen Connolly. UGI representatives told the zoning hearing board and previously stated the compressor will far exceed those levels.
DEP also will consider concerns about public health and safety, including emergency response plans and access routes, and though it doesn‚??t regulate either, concerns about noise and odors.
Connolly said the department has received multiple requests for a public hearing on the permit, including requests from West Wyoming officials, state Rep. Phyllis Mundy and state Sen. John Yudichak, and will schedule a hearing if the station receives zoning approval.
‚??Many of my constituents and I are concerned that this compressor station may impact air quality in both the immediate and surrounding areas,‚?Ě Mundy said. ‚??A public hearing will give us important information and allow us to express our concerns to DEP.‚?Ě
Yudichak said the hearing will ensure that the local public, a significant portion of which opposes gas drilling, is fully informed about the project and that all information about the station is fully disclosed.
That hearing will proceed regardless of whether the board‚??s decision is appealed, Connolly said.
‚??If there‚??s an appeal, we‚??ll still move,‚?Ě Connolly said. ‚??We can‚??t deal with what-ifs; we‚??ve got to deal with the concrete.‚?Ě
UGI also needs an erosion and sediment control general permit for the compressor station site and waterways encroachment permits for areas where its pipeline will cross wetlands. Though not required, DEP will accept testimony on those permits at the planned air-quality permit hearing, which is tentatively scheduled for October.
The company also will need erosion and sediment control approval for the construction phase of the station and pipeline from the Luzerne Conservation District as part of its DEP permit application. Conservation District Manager Josh Longmore said representatives of the district will hear testimony at the DEP hearing.
What: The Luzerne County Zoning Hearing Board renders its decision on UGI Energy Services‚?? application to build a natural gas compressor station in West Wyoming
Where: The Luzerne County Courthouse, Council Meeting Room, 1st floor
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Testimony: No new testimony on UGI‚??s application will be accepted at the meeting.