PUC approves PECO natural gas project for neighborhood business area of Marple Twp.

Person holds a sign that reads,

File photo: Protesters gather 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)

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The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has unanimously voted to approve PECO’s controversial natural gas project in an area zoned for neighborhood businesses in Marple Township.

The three commissioners granted PECO special exceptions to the neighborhood zoning code and largely blocked objections from the township, which had denied PECO’s request for an exception in November 2020.

“PECO satisfied its burden of demonstrating that the buildings should be exempt from Marple Township zoning because the proposed situation of the buildings is reasonably necessary for the public convenience or welfare of the public,” the commissioners wrote in the opinion accompanying Thursday’s vote.

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Since February 2021, when PECO filed for a petition for relief, the contentious matter has been before the PUC. Administrative law judges weighed in on the case in December 2021 in favor of PECO.

The energy utility’s proposed natural gas reliability station, which has been the source of community uproar since the plan was introduced in June 2020, is now clear for construction at the corner of Sproul and Cedar Grove roads. It will consist of two buildings designed to lower gas pressure and will ultimately be part of a bigger undertaking in Delaware County, where PECO is already in the process of installing 11 miles worth of natural gas lines.

In a statement to WHYY News, a PECO spokesperson said that the company is “eager” to begin the work.

“We remain committed to being a responsible neighbor to the residents of Marple Township and will continue to keep the community informed as we move forward with our work,” the statement read. “We appreciate their feedback and plan to continue partnering with the township to bring value to the community beyond improved reliability.”

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But for organizers of the Marple Safety Coalition, the collection of neighbors dead set against the location, the recent ruling represented a major letdown. Residents opposed to the station say it will be a traffic, safety, and environmental hazard. For the past two years, community members have conducted protests and participated in public hearings.

Greg Fat of the Marple Safety Coalition described his reaction to the PUC’s vote in just one word.

“Disappointed — disappointed that the PUC is not standing up for what makes common sense and is taking the position with PECO,” Fat said.

He said the news wasn’t really unexpected, though. He figured that the December 2021 recommendation from administrative law judges to the PUC in favor of the energy company “made PECO’s special exception a done deal.”

Fat, who lives about 1,000 feet away from the proposed site, said the Marple Safety Coalition is still evaluating what steps, if any, it can take to stop the station from being constructed there.

But he has other worries in the meantime — he thinks the case “sets a dangerous precedent” that could have broader implications.

“It reinforces a precedent that energy companies can basically do as they please anywhere they want, because they have the upper hand in telling the PUC what they think is reasonable and in the interest of the public,” Fat said.

PECO maintains that the project is safe.

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