Tempers flare over proposed compressor

Great bend Councilmen Brett Jennings (standing) confronts Planning Commission Acting Chair Frank Kwader for asking for audience questions and not public comment. Kwader apologized saying he was “used to dealing with people who are not so confrontational.” STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

BY STACI WILSON

Tempers flared at a special Susquehanna County Planning Commission meeting Tuesday (Jan. 8) as anti-gas activists galvanized against the proposed construction of a compressor station in Dimock Twp.

The Williams Church Compressor Station located on Rt. 3010 will be the third in the Dimock area, creating what resident Paul Karpich believed would be an endless triangle of noise surrounding his home.

The Planning Commission tabled granting preliminary approval to the development on Dec. 18.

The compressor station plan did get that approval at Tuesday’s meeting.

The preliminary approval is conditional upon the receipt of an erosion and sediment control permit by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Planning Commission Chairman Patrick Ahearn resigned from the position following the December meeting.

About 50 people attended the Jan. 8 meeting in the county office building in Montrose.

However, before Acting Chair Frank Kwader could open the meeting, a barrage of questions flew from the audience.

One audience member said the Commission agreed to provide 30 days before any decision was made and questioned why they had not been given that time.

DELAY

At the December meeting, audience members called for a delay in the vote so they could meet with DEP on air quality concerns and to also study noise related to compressor stations.

Kwader said that the Commission was liable for not acting at that time.

The Williams Field Services Company had submitted all the available documentation and the Commission should have taken action in December, Kwader said.

Craig Stevens, of Silver Lake Twp., said the Planning Commission has 90 days to take official action on a plan submitted.

“My concern is (the Planning Commission) did not take the time to review this. Are the answers available?” Stevens asked. “We need questions answered,” he demanded of Commission members.

Stevens also took exception to the fact that he and others who attended the December meeting were not personally notified of the special meeting called for Jan. 8.

“I will not argue with you, sir,” Kwader said. “We were advised we must take action to approve or disapprove.”

Immediately prior to the meeting, Planning Commission members met with its solicitor, Thomas Meagher, in an executive session for the purpose of discussing potential litigation.

Kwader called for an orderly meeting and asked that all questions be directed to him as the Acting Chair.

Stevens said there was a discrepancy in the number of engines for the station in the plan Williams submitted to the Planning Commission and the one submitted to DEP.

However, the plan submitted to the county called for four engines in the building with three to four more to be added at a later date; bringing the plan in line with the DEP permit submission.

Stevens also began to speak on his general concerns in regards to compressor stations.

Kwader said the question on the floor was about the Williams Compressor Station at the Church site; and that ultimately eight engines are planned to be housed at the Church Compressor Station.

IMPASSIONED

Great Bend Borough Councilman Brett Jennings seized on Kwader’s use of the word “question” and said the Chair was violating the Pennsylvania Open Meetings Act.

“You asked for questions,” Jennings said, “It has to be open for comment.”

As Kwader attempted to answer, Jennings yelled, “Be quiet for my objection.” And he also yelled for the meeting chairman to, “Stop talking. You are interrupting me!”

“It can’t be limited to just questions. You said that it was limited to just questions,” Jennings said.

Kwader answered, “I apologize for any misunderstanding,” and opened the meeting up for a 25-minute comment period. “I’m used to dealing with people who are not so confrontational,” Kwader said.

He also acknowledged that the proposed compressor station was a “volatile subject.”

Brooklyn Twp. resident Rebecca Roter expressed concern over the burgeoning number of compressor stations in the area.

“We know you don’t have jurisdiction over all areas of our lives,” Roter said, adding she was concerned about the accountability owners of those stations have to the public. “It’s a serious issue,” she said as she asked for the Commission’s help.

New Milford Twp. resident Meryl Solar said that even though there are no compressor stations near her home, the existence of them throughout the county cause her significant anxiety.

“Before any compressor station is built, we need to ensure the best technologies are used,” Solar said as she became emotional.

SALDO

Stevens read from the county’s Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance (SALDO) touching on portions of the law pertaining to natural gas compressor stations, including a 50-decibal noise restriction.

“I want to see the professional write-off of the engineering sound level at the nearest neighboring house,” Stevens said.

Stevens pointed out that the Susquehanna County SALDO requires a sound engineering perform sound testing before a compressor station plan is approved.

“Without it in hand, you’re violating your own law,” Stevens admonished.

However, at the meeting the compressor station plan before the board was only up for preliminary approval – not final approval.

County Planning Director Robert Templeton explained, “Once the station is built, and the engines are fired up, the sound engineers conduct the testing at nearby dwellings.”

Currently, the Susquehanna County SALDO has stricter requirements than the state law.

The state law, which has fallen under legal scrutiny, has sound limits set for the nearest occupied dwelling while the local ordinance keeps the 50-decibel limit at any property.

Neighboring Bradford and Wyoming counties have nothing specific to compressor stations included in their land use ordinances, but most of their municipalities which have  zoning do.

PLAN & VOTE

Following the allotted public comment period, the Commission moved the plan off the table, bringing it back into active discussion by the members.

Templeton reviewed the submitted plan.

The proposed Williams Field Service Polish National Church Compressor Station will sit on 68 acres in Dimock Twp. Buildings on the site will include one, 60×371 foot building to house eight engines; a control building and an equipment building. A 6-foot high security fence with barbed wire on the top of it will surround the facility. The six-foot security fence is required in the county SALDO.

The nearest neighbor to the site is located 1,700 feet away.

A driveway permit had previously been granted Williams for a private drive that leads to the site, Templeton said.

A waiver, however, was requested by Williams to allow for a longer access drive than is required by the plan in order to minimize impact to wetlands and a pond.

The building design will enable the facility to comply with the 50-decibel ordinance requirement, per the engineer, Templeton read from the application, and testing would be done to verify compliance.

The sound engineering consultants used by Williams was Hoover & Keith Inc., of Houston, Texas.

Kwader asked Commission members if they could see anything in the ordinance that could be cited to reject the plan. “We have to have an ordinance place to cite to,” he explained.

Hearing none, Commission member Ted Place moved to grant conditional preliminary approval to the plan, as well as the requested waiver.

Commission member Kathy Shelley said, “It’s important to tell them this is preliminary approval.”

She noted it was conditional upon the DEP approval and the sound engineering report.