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By Brad Hundt
Washington County Court has upheld a March 2011 decision by Cecil Township’s zoning hearing board to deny a request by MarkWest Liberty Midstream & Resources to build a natural gas compressor station on Route 980 near Coleman Road.
An opinion issued on Jan. 21 by Judge John DiSalle said the court would have preferred to hold off on a decision until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules on the zoning provisions of Act 13, the state’s law governing oil and gas drilling. However, “the uncertainty of the length of the delay makes further delay impractical.”
The decision has not exhausted all of MarkWest’s options, though; it also has a lawsuit on the compressor station pending in Commonwealth Court, and would be able to build the compressor station if the Supreme Court strikes down the Commonwealth Court decision on Act 13, which found that the law’s uniform zoning standards unconstitutionally stripped communities of their land-use and planning rights. Cecil Township was a plaintiff in the suit, along with Robinson, Mt. Pleasant and Peters townships in Washington County and South Fayette Township in Allegheny County.
If Act 13’s zoning provisions are reaffirmed by the Supreme Court, the compressor station would be a permitted use in industrial areas and a conditional use in residential areas.
The site on Route 980 is zoned for light industrial use. Amid opposition to the compressor station from nearby residents, the zoning hearing board decided that a compressor station was not appropriate for a site zoned for light industrial use and was not an essential service, like a public utility.
The decision states that the zoning hearing board “used sound discretion” in turning down MarkWest’s request to build the compressor station. It also says that MarkWest did not prove that the compressor station would have the same impact, or even less impact, than other enterprises that would be allowed in areas zoned for light industrial use.
Neither Patricia McGrail, the solicitor for Cecil’s zoning hearing board, nor Christopher Rimkus, an attorney representing MarkWest, could be reached for immediate comment.