No permit, no power

MarkWest constructed a compressor station in Donegal Township without first getting a building permit. It is now operating with generators because the building inspector won’t allow the company to install electricity.

WEST ALEXANDER – MarkWest faced no resistance from Donegal Township when the company said it wanted to build a natural gas compressor station atop a high hill along Old National Pike. That is, until the football field-sized building was constructed without a building permit.

The complex, which can be seen from Interstate 70 about a mile east of the West Alexander exit, is already up and running. MarkWest is using generators to run the facility because its hands are tied, according to North Strabane Township building inspector Don Hindman, who is contracted to work for Donegal.

“They are operating with generators because I will not give them approval to get electricity,” Hindman said Thursday after visiting the site.

In October, Hindman denied MarkWest’s building permit application for one of the buildings the company intended to – and ultimately did – construct.

MarkWest appealed that decision, and a hearing will be held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the municipal building in West Alexander.

The facility has several support buildings, as well as a building housing several compressors, which is the largest structure and also the one that does not have a permit.

Hindman said he denied MarkWest’s permit because it was a safety issue. He said the building is simply too large for its classification, and MarkWest needs to install firewalls or divide the building.

“The problem we have is because of the natural gases within this system. They are only permitted 2,000 cubic feet of gas within what’s called a fire area,” Hindman said. “I am more worried about flash fires and things of that nature more than anything else. This is a huge building. Anything can happen.”

In his denial letter to MarkWest, he wrote “the allowable quantity will be greatly exceeded to a point that you could not provide a number.”

MarkWest operates more than a dozen compressor stations in Washington County. Company spokesman Robert McHale said the Donegal facility, named the Carpenter station, is the same size as two of its compressor stations in Butler County.

The company applied for a variance to forego certain requirements in the building permit, including firewalls, a sprinkler system and a manual fire alarm system. McHale said the compressor station has systems that “exceed the safety requirements” and are equipped for gas and flash fire detection.

The compressor station is unmanned and monitored remotely through a computer system in real time.

McHale did not answer questions about the status of construction at the site nor explain why the company is operating without a permit.

He said MarkWest has had productive discussions with township officials and plans to “continue to act in good faith” to resolve the issue.

Donegal Township Supervisor Doug Teagarden said the board is eager to get MarkWest in compliance, but understands why North Strabane building inspectors won’t “sign off on it” until safety requirements are fulfilled.

“Some of the issues are the fire safety issues that concern me,” Teagarden said. “They want us to deviate from the standards. We’re not just going to carte blanche issue a permit.”

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