Township approves site plans for Sunoco shutoff valve

By: Robin Ruehlen | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 25, 2013

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — Is it a park or a utility? 

Chances are, residents and passersby won’t know the difference once work is completed on the emergency shutoff valve and monitoring station for the Sunoco Logistics-owned pipeline at the corner of Long Lake and Groton Road in six weeks.

At a special meeting Sept. 16, the Board of Trustees approved the final site plans presented by Sunoco for the installation of the above-ground valve and electrical box, a meticulously planned landscape design that would cloak the valve from view, and the paving of Groton Road. 

The approval was subject to a number of conditions agreed to by Sunoco, including a maintenance agreement, compliance with township requirements, supplied building permits, repairs to disruptions by the installation and a bond for the cost of paving. Trustees Brian Kepes, David Buckley and Corinne Khederian were absent.

Supervisor Leo Savoie said construction is set to begin the week of Sept. 23. According to Sunoco representatives, construction of the valve itself will take approximately two weeks, with an additional four weeks allowed for landscaping at the 20-by-70-foot trapezoid-shaped site.

“Sunoco first approached one year ago, when they were considering building a large facility somewhere within the township. That large facility didn’t work out for them, primarily because we are 98 percent residential,” Savoie said.

“Unbeknownst to us, Sunoco then purchased a piece of land at the corner of Groton and Long Lake Road to put in a monitoring valve, which is for the safety and welfare of all of the residents that live along that pipeline. It allows that pipeline to be shut down instantaneously if there is a loss of pressure within the line.”

The site is approximately 70 feet off of Long Lake Road, 60 feet off of Groton Road, 40 feet from the side lot line on Long Lake Road and 100 feet from the nearest residence on the south end on Groton.

Savoie said that once township officials realized Sunoco’s plans, they immediately began to explore several options.

“We met with our attorneys; we discussed it internally with our engineers and looked at what would be the best scenario for the township as a whole,” he said.

“Rather than fight them on this, we’ve worked in conjunction with Sunoco to develop what I feel is a win-win plan for everybody. We could’ve fought them on that, could’ve ended up in court for a year or two. If we lost in court, those different options would have gone away.”

Sunoco Logistics representative Joe McGinn and several others from the company were in attendance to address questions from board and from residents following the meeting.

McGinn said the nine-mile portion of pipeline that runs beneath the township was installed during the 1950s and is part of a 400-mile system that has transported liquid butane, propane and ethane from western Pennsylvania all the way to Sarnia, Ontario. The new valve will be one of 37 along the pipeline, which McGinn said are placed roughly every 7.6 miles.

“We operate in a significant amount of municipalities and counties, so we try to work with individual government entities to have our facilities reflect what the community feels its needs are,” McGinn said.

“The site and the valve itself are automated. We have folks that will fly the line to make sure the integrity of it remains, and we have an operations control center in Reading, Pa., that is operated 24-7.  In the unlikely event we had an issue, it’s a button-push away,” he said.

Township Planning Director Patti Voelker said that while reviewing the site plan, “we treated this no differently than any other single-family development in our neighborhoods — with very specific qualifications.”

“We want to make sure it did not interfere with the line of sight relevant to Groton and Long Lake, caused the least amount of disruption to public utilities and vegetation, adhered to our tree protection and preservation standards, and addressed all the safety measures prescribed by our township emergency service departments,” she said. 

The site plan was reviewed and met with approval by the Public Works and Engineering Fire and Police departments. In addition to these reviews, officials required a maintenance agreement to be provided by Sunoco that itemized the township’s expectations that the installation process and future maintenance standards would be befitting the residential neighborhood. These include the following:

• That tree protection measures be upheld prior to and during installation.

• That landscape installation be completed 30 days after valve installation and fence installation, but no later than Nov. 15.

• An underground irrigation system.

• That aboveground shutoff valve and components be painted black.

• That the surrounding eight-foot vinyl chain link fence be black.

• That Sunoco maintain all lawn and landscape elements — including mowing, weeding, watering and fertilizing — and promptly replace dead elements.

Landscape architect Michael Dul said his aim was to create a “natural and park-like” appearance on the site, and “not like we’re trying to hide something.”

The fenced enclosure will be ringed with 18-foot-high spaded evergreen trees, with 8- to 10-foot arborvitae in the gaps to obliterate the height of the fence. Large canopy maples will be placed on the south end, along with the existing maple and hickory trees, and smaller flowering trees will be woven into the perimeter. A variety of shrubs, including burning bush, hydrangea, forsythia and viburnum, will be planted at the base of the evergreens.

Dul explained that many of the plantings are not meant to be pruned and will therefore take on their natural characteristics and grow into thickets of dense material.

“They wouldn’t be chopped into meatballs,” he said, adding that the distance from the fence to the edge of the plantings is approximately 50 feet.

Clerk Jan Roncelli said that in terms of a ballpark figure, the project will cost Sunoco approximately $350,000 to pave Groton, as well as $80,000-$100,000 for the irrigation system, landscaping, the fence and demolition of unnecessary vegetation.

Long Lake Road resident Mary Sagady said she is “extremely worried and concerned” about the valve’s close proximity to her home.

“First of all, it is totally vulnerable to a terrorist attack, being aboveground, and only protected by a flimsy chain link fence. If a car were to run off the road and crash into it, the fence would be knocked down and pipeline would be exposed to damage,” she said.

“Also, DTE trucks frequently drive heavy equipment onto easements to do repair work on the Edison poles. Those heavy trucks, with just a few feet of dirt over the pipeline, could crush and cause damage to the pipeline, resulting in an environmental disaster. You’re not doing enough to protect our community; you’re just beautifying an unsightly above-ground shutoff valve.”

Shah Yatrik, who lives on Long Lake, raised concerns about possible corrosion inside the pipeline, which is more than 60 years old.

“I am concerned (Sunoco) is doing it for the profit, at the safety and the livelihood of the community,” he said.

“What happens if the shutoff valve fails, and any car could be a time bomb?”

Derry Road resident Katherine Kenum said she is concerned with an increase in cut-through traffic on Groton once the road is paved, and she asked the board to consider the addition of speed bumps.

“We’ve already seen some additional traffic with the construction of the new high school. We have a very safe, family-friendly dirt road neighborhood that we enjoy, and with paving, I anticipate speeders are going to pick up the pace and really create a concern,” she said.

Rusty Davidson, a Groton Road resident, said he was also in favor of any traffic control measures that would make it less convenient for drivers to cut through once the road is paved.

“They already drive very fast because it’s a way to avoid the left turn problem at Franklin Road,” he said.

Groton Road resident William Vetter said he commends the board for coming up with what he called “a very nice plan.”

“I think the fact that you’re putting the shutoff valve in there actually improves safety, so I don’t understand the problem with that,” he said.

“The idea of getting a paved road and a park-like setting is very desirable. I’m very much in favor of it.”