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Columbia Gas Sues State College Over Pipeline

The downtown pipeline saga continues, as it came out yesterday that Columbia Gas filed a civil lawsuit against State College and Borough Manager Tom Fountaine for refusing to issue a permit to begin construction on Penn State’s pipeline project.

For those of you who haven’t been following along, here’s a quick rundown: Penn State needs to upgrade the West Campus Steam Plant to natural gas. In order to do so, the university needs to build a high-pressure pipeline from the East side of campus to the West side. Because the ground under campus is too elaborate with other pipes and tunnels, the plan was to build the pipeline through parts of downtown State College, including residential areas. Residents were understandably pissed off, motivated by safety issues and potential property value decline, and made sure Borough Council knew it during the public comment hour at recent meetings. Council decided to deny Columbia Gas a building permit, but because state law dictates energy issues, the Borough would likely lose a court battle on the issue and the prudence of denying a permit was questioned. Columbia Gas wasn’t happy, but Penn State asked the company to reevaluate the campus underground to see if the project might be feasible.

That’s where we are now. No one is happy — Columbia Gas even wrote a grumpy letter about their displeasure to Council — and everyone is unsure of what will happen next, but Columbia Gas has officially taken the matter to court, despite being asked to reconsider the campus route.

Columbia Gas called the Borough’s denial “arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and against applicable law” in the lawsuit. The company has agreed to put the legal proceedings on hold until it reevaluates the campus route.

Borough Council issued this statement after the initial media report from the CDT was posted.

“Council and staff understand that the public is extremely concerned about the natural gas pipeline,” officials wrote in the statement. “Concerns about public safety and the need for transparency in decisions that affect the health, safety and welfare of the community have been heard by council, and the borough is fully committed to defending its position in not permitting this pipeline installation through residential neighborhoods.”

Penn State also issued a statement inspired by the lawsuit, saying that the university is committed to exploring all options.

“We have asked Columbia to re-evaluate routes that keep this line on campus if it is practical,” said Ford Stryker, associate vice president for the Office of Physical Plant. “This is a very complex undertaking, but we anticipate that the evaluation will be completed by the middle of July.”

We’ll be sure to keep you posted after the next episode of Townies vs. Penn State.

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About the Author

Kevin Horne

Kevin Horne was the editor of Onward State from 2012-2014 and currently holds the position of Managing Editor Emeritus, which is a fake title he made up. He graduated from Penn State with degrees journalism and political science in 2014 and is currently seeking his J.D. at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. A third generation Penn Stater from Williamsport, Pa., Kevin is also the president of the graduate student government. Email: [email protected]

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