Sunoco buys two homes at Chester County site of Mariner East 2-related sinkhole
Mariner East 2 pipeline construction crews work in the backyards of homes on Lisa Drive in West Whiteland Township, Chester County, on May 2. (Marie Cusick/WITF)
Sunoco Pipeline bought two homes on Lisa Drive, the Chester County development and pipeline construction site where residents have been tormented by sinkholes since late 2017, according to state and county documents obtained on Monday.
The documents said Sunoco agreed to buy the homes and land of John Mattia and his next-door neighbors, T.J. Allen and Carol Ann Allen, for $400,000 each in transactions dated April 18.
A Realty Transfer Tax Statement of Value filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue records a “total consideration” of $400,000 for each of the properties.
The home sold by the Allens is estimated with a market value of about $300,000-$330,000, according to listings by Zillow and Realtor.com. The value of the former Mattia home is estimated at about $340,000, according to Redfin, a real estate brokerage.
The documents, posted on the Chester County Recorder of Deeds website, show the residents agreed to sell at a site where Sunoco has struggled to build and operate the Mariner East pipelines because of unstable limestone geology. The residents are subject to nondisclosure agreements.
Two of the Lisa Drive residents, Russell and Mary March, and another nearby homeowner sued Sunoco in March 2018, claiming the company had negligently drilled through porous rock near their homes without recognizing that sinkholes would likely result, and ignoring the results of a geotechnical investigation there. The suit was settled but the terms were not disclosed.
The company’s activities at Lisa Drive have been shut down twice by regulators on the grounds that public safety is endangered by construction of two new pipelines – Mariner East 2 and 2X – plus the operation of an existing natural gas liquids pipeline – Mariner East 1 – on a geologically unstable site.
A section of Mariner East 1 was exposed by the latest Lisa Drive sinkhole in January, and the whole cross-state pipeline was shut down by Public Utility Commission investigators for about three months before being allowed to restart on April 22.
Opponents of the multibillion-dollar Mariner East project have seized on Lisa Drive as an example of the project’s potential to endanger residents and disrupt their lives. They say Sunoco drove the new pipelines through the site too close to homes, and without fully studying whether the ground was stable enough to support the two new pipelines on the same right of way as the existing Mariner East 1.
“What happened and what is happening on Lisa Drive is emblematic of how Sunoco/ET is permitted to operate here in Chester County and throughout the Commonwealth,” said state Sen. Andy Dinniman, a Chester County Democrat. “The bottom line is people are being forced from their homes.”
Dinniman also accused the Public Utility Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection of “utterly and epically” failing to protect communities like Lisa Drive from the Mariner East project.
Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, a spokesman for the PUC, declined to comment on Dinniman’s statement. The DEP did not immediately respond.
Sam Rubin, an organizer with the anti-pipeline group Food & Water Watch, said: “Sunoco’s careless construction practices have literally driven these people from their homes. This is tragic, and it raises more questions about the safety of residents along the pipeline route.”
Joe Green, an attorney for Mattia and the Allens, said on Monday that his clients were not permitted to comment even though the sale documents are now public.
At a third Lisa Drive property, the residence of Russell and Mary March, moving ‘Pods’ were being loaded on Monday morning. Andrew Neuwirth, attorney for the Marches, has declined to comment.
The area behind the houses was filled with backhoes, orange plastic fencing, and wooden tracks for earth-moving equipment.
Sunoco, a unit of Energy Transfer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its plans for the houses now that it owns them.
The Mariner East pipelines carry natural gas liquids some 350 miles from southwest Pennsylvania to a terminal at Marcus Hook in Delaware County where most of the product is exported for plastics manufacture overseas. The newest part of the project, called Mariner East 2, began operating on Dec. 29, 2018.
StateImpact Pennsylvania is a collaboration among WITF, WHYY, WESA and the Allegheny Front to report on the commonwealth’s energy economy.