April 16, 2014

Partly cloudy

Pipeline owners seeking exception to code

MEDINA — The owners of a cross-country pipeline are awaiting a ruling by a county appeals board on whether it can upgrade a compression pump in Medina Township to transport ethane, a natural gas liquid.

Sunoco Logistics made the case for an appeal on its pump station at 3623 Watkins Road before the Medina County Board of Building Appeals on Wednesday.

The company needs a variance to upgrade the compression pump already in place at the site and to add on to an electrical building. The upgrades are required so the company can transport ethane on the 395-mile Mariner West Pipeline, which will carry ethane from the Marcellus Shale in Western Pennsylvania through Ohio and Michigan and into Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

The pipeline is already in place but has not been in use. The pipeline was originally designed to ship refined products like gasoline.

The pump station in Medina County is one of 11 pump stations along the line, said Jeff Shields, a spokesman for Sunoco Logistics.

“The project uses almost exclusively existing pipeline,” Shields said in an email response to The Gazette. “The largest section of new pipe was a nine-mile replacement in southeast Michigan.”

The proposed updates and uses do not comply with Ohio building codes, which is why the company has been working with the county’s chief building official Charles Huber.

“When I reviewed it I found non-compliance items, so I issued an adjudication order, which said your drawings don’t comply with this section of the building code,” Huber explained. Among the issues Huber flagged was the lack of a fire-suppression system including a sprinkler system, which under Ohio law is required on a “high hazard” building like the one Sunoco is proposing to construct.

“One of the rights they had was to appeal to the Medina County Board of Building Appeals and the building code and state statute allows for their appeal to take the form of a variance request, or exception,” Huber said.

Wednesday night, the board deliberated privately on the variance requests. The board includes engineers Felix Thays, chairman, and Robert Wellert Sr.; architect Royden Schenz; attorney Natalie Grubb and Paul Weekley, who represents organized labor in the construction trade industry. Weekley did not attend the Wednesday session.

Huber said he expects members to draft a formal, written opinion in the next few days.

The variance requests that would enable the Mariner West pipeline to transport ethane have been a source of protest from some members of the community. In September, Sandra Bilek, co-founder of Concerned Citizens of Medina County, presented the Medina Township Board of Trustees with two sets of petitions from residents: one signed by 34 residents and the other signed by 13 residents.

Bilek’s group has been vocal in expressing concerns about the potential dangers of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Bilek, a township resident, has been present at township meetings regarding the building. On Wednesday, she pleaded her case to the building appeals board.

“It’s rated high-hazard, which is the highest and most dangerous classification a building can have,” she said Thursday in an interview. “It just seems like they should have to abide by the building codes. I have severe concerns about a company that thinks they can snub their nose at codes.”

Bilek said she also believed Medina Township residents would be serving as guinea pigs for other pump stations on the line. At Wednesday’s meeting, Bilek said Medina Township would be one of the first stations to come online and pump ethane.

“I can understand they’re losing money and why they’re eager to begin operations, but where is the safety for the citizens?” she said. “If those vapors build up and that building explodes, it would be catastrophic.”

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or at lgenson@medina-gazette.com.