Controversial PECO gas project in Marple Twp. goes to PUC for hearings

Greg Fat (center), a leader of Marple Safety Coalition, joins protesters at the intersection of Sproul and Cedar Grove roads in Marple Township, Pa, where PECO wants to build a natural gas expansion plant. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Greg Fat (center), a leader of Marple Safety Coalition, joins protesters at the intersection of Sproul and Cedar Grove roads in Marple Township, Pa, where PECO wants to build a natural gas expansion plant. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Updated 11:15 a.m. Tuesday

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will conduct two days of telephone hearings this week, on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 25 and 26, to get input on PECO’s controversial proposed natural-gas reliability station in Marple Township, Delaware County.

Those interested in testifying or listening to the hearings have until 10 a.m. Monday, May 24, to pre-register with the PUC. There will be two hearings each day: one at 1 p.m., and one at 6 p.m.

“And if you choose to testify on the record in those situations, then your comments can be used by the commission, as the PUC considers these applications,” said press secretary Nils Hagen-Frederiksen.

Marple residents, as well as elected officials at the township and county levels, have opposed to the station since PECO first notified them of its plan to seek a special zoning exception in June 2020. The area in question — at the corner of Sproul and Cedar Grove roads — is zoned for neighborhood businesses.

The PECO project is part of a larger undertaking in Delaware County, where the company has been installing 11 miles of gas lines. The proposed station will act as a receiving point from a separate gas plant in West Conshohocken.

These hearings represent the latest installment in the community-versus-company saga, which has evolved from a denied request for the special exception in November, to an appeal with the Delco courts in December, to a petition for relief with the PUC in February.

Opponents of the proposed gas reliability station believe that it is an environmental, traffic, and safety hazard. Setting itself up as PECO’s foil in recent weeks is a group known as the Marple Safety Coalition, which has been protesting to make sure that the planned facility does not come to fruition.

“But right now, our focus is outreach for the public input hearings, because even though people are naturally very disinclined to speak in public, it’s all going to be done by telephone. In fact, the judge was extremely gracious and understanding in agreeing when we submitted that we have many concerned seniors around here, long-term residents, and those who don’t use computers. Naturally, she agreed that everybody should be able to participate by phone,” said Julie Baker, an organizer with the Marple Safety Coalition.

Administrative Law Judge Emily DeVoe will preside over the two days of hearings.

“Not only will she be hearing the testimony on the 25th and on the 26th, she’ll be the one that deals with all the legal filings, the expert testimony, and other things as we move forward in the case,” Hagen-Frederiksen said. “And she will be the judge that makes a formal recommendation for the commission to consider at some point in the future.”

There is no timetable or “shot-clock” for the judge’s investigation. Depending on how many people testify and are involved legally, it could be a decision made over the long haul.

The Marple Safety Coalition hopes to rally as many as 100 people to testify in opposition to the PECO project.

“And from what we understand, 100 people on a public input hearing would certainly attract attention and show that the community is very serious against this project,” said Greg Fat, an organizer with the coalition.

However, Fat said it will be more than just one community in opposition to the station — more than just “some neighbors.” He anticipates a countywide showing.

“We heard from people that are from the neighboring towns that are against this project. And, you know, this is a much larger issue than just the people immediately surrounding the site,” Fat said. “There are people that are reaching out to us from all over and from different backgrounds and industries that do not want to see this project move forward in the state that it is.”

In a statement to WHYY News Saturday, a PECO spokesperson said that it is continuing with its legal options, “because this natural gas reliability station is too important to the continued dependable gas service that our customers need and expect.”

“These hearings are a standard part of such proceedings and remain another avenue to share information and work with Marple Township residents and commissioners.​ We remain committed to timely, open, and transparent communication and look forward to this opportunity to share why the natural gas reliability station is necessary and important for Marple Township and Delaware County,” the spokesperson said.

As part of a virtual town hall on April 10, PECO unveiled several renderings of the proposed natural gas reliability station — all of which can be viewed here.

A rendering of the proposed natural gas reliability station (PECO)

A PECO spokesperson said that the “new design options were created based on residential and community leader feedback to address concerns regarding appearance, traffic safety, and noise”

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