By BRENDA J. LINERT
It was more than a year ago that Chris Tokarcik was first contacted by landmen working for Sunoco Logistics wanting to run a pipeline through his Suffield Township property.
While Tokarcik admits he would entertain the idea, he said landmen representing the petroleum company have been short on details, leading to his refusal to sign any agreements.
"Sunoco wants to pay us a one-time easement, but they will be making money on this as long as they want," Tokarcik said. "I don't really want it on my property."
He was among dozens of Portage County residents who attended a meeting Thursday to raise concerns and questions of Sunoco Logistics representatives in attendance. More than 30 residents crowded into a small commissioners' meeting room, while an overflow crowd of about 80 more were routed to a larger room, where they expected to watch the meeting via closed-circuit television. Technical difficulties defused that plan, however, and residents were told a recording of the meeting would be posted online at a later date.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Brenda J. Linert
About 30 people packed into the Portage County commissioners meeting room for a Portage County commissioners meeting on Thursday about plans Sunoco Logistics has to run pipelines through the county.
The meeting had been called by Portage County commissioners in an attempt to address growing concerns about the company's plans to build a new pipeline slated to carry refined fuel products through the southwest portion of Portage County, along with startup last month of another pipeline carrying ethane through Mahoning County and across southern Portage County.
"They have had three different land agents. We have turned it over to our attorney," Tokarcik said. "It's not just money. There's a lot of safety concerns, and we haven't had any real discussions with them."
Sunoco Logistics' senior manager of public affairs Joe McGinn attempted to put residents' concerns to rest. During a presentation, McGinn outlined safety measures that include around-the-clock computerized monitoring of things like line pressure done at a company control center near Harrisburg, Pa. He also spoke of regular inspections, practice drills and training conducted with local emergency management crews, weld integrity, ventilation and above-ground markers.
The discussion did little to calm the concerns of Perry Phillips of Kent.
Perry Phillips of Kent expressed concern about possible contamination of the area's aquifers.
"All of our water in northeast Ohio is very sensitive to these kinds of disruptions," Phillips said, pointing out that even a pinhole in a pipeline could lead to heavy contamination. "It doesn't have to be a sink hole."
Randolph resident Cathy Doak raised concerns of ethane transportation.
"Ethane is invisible and it's odorless," Doak said. "The first sign of a leak could be when someone falls unconscious and dies."
While a new pipeline, known as "Allegheny Access" across the southwest portion of Portage County, is planned to carry refined products like diesel fuel or gasoline, company officials acknowledge those products could change in the future.
"You put the pipe in the ground, and it has a very long life," Sunoco Logistics' McGinn said, explaining the reasoning for contract language that allows the company to use the pipeline for virtually any gas, refined product or liquid natural gas.
"It's in preparation for unknowns, so in the event there wouldn't be the ability to ship refined products anymore, we want flexibility to move other products," McGinn said.
"So even though they are signing for liquid petroleum products, what they are actually signing is an open-ended agreement that it could be used for other products," Portage Commissioner Kathleen Chandler clarified. "I think people need to be informed about that."
It's the possibility of transporting products like ethane, a highly volatile odorless gas, that has many residents concerned.
Sunoco Logistics, the Philadelphia-based company that installs and operates pipelines for Sunoco, in December began operating an ethane pipeline known as "Mariner West" carrying the natural gas liquid, or NGL, from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale westward through eastern Ohio then north to the Sarnia, Ontario, petrochemical market. That line utilizes easements obtained by the company about 75 years ago, company officials said.
Environmental and safety issues weren't the only concerns raised at Thursday's meeting.
Mike Engbert of the Ohio Laborers District Council said Sunoco Logistics has brought more than 80 percent of its site workers from outside the area.
"We want energy companies to hire contractors that invest in our communities," he said. "Unfortunately, 83 percent of the work force is from out of state. Their business model is to come into this area and bring their own guys."
He said that pattern so far has led to 642 jobs going to outside workers that could have been done by local welders, truck drivers, general laborers and equipment operators.
"This isn't a labor issue at all. This is a community issue," Engbert said.
McGinn acknowledged that Sunoco Logistics does hire contractors that may not be local.
"While every contractor we have isn't necessarily from the community where we are operating, they are certified (according to local requirements)," McGinn said. "We do make an effort to hire locally and source locally."