Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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In 2007, the Site, in Trainer Borough, was owned by SCT, and used for making corrosion inhibitors, fuel additives, and oil additives. SCT kept flammable, corrosive, and combustible chemicals. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) determined that “there is a release or threat of release of hazardous substances or contaminants, which presents a substantial danger to human health or the environment. The federal EPA initiated removal actions. SCT could not afford the cleanup expenses, including electricity to power pollution control and security equipment, The power company was going to shut off the Site's electricity, so PADEP assumed responsibility for the bills. Delaware County forced a tax sale. Buyers purchased the Site for $20,000; the purchase agreement stated that the Site had ongoing environmental issues and remediation. Trainer Custom Chemical took title in October 2012. The EPA and PADEP completed their removal actions in December 2012. PADEP had incurred more than $818,000 in costs. The buyers had demolished many of the Site’s structures; reclaimed salvageable materials were sold for $875,000. In 2014, PADEP received reports indicating that hazards still existed at the Site; its buildings had asbestos-containing materials. PADEP sued under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601-28, and Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA), to recover cleanup costs. The Third Circuit held that the Buyer is liable for environmental cleanup costs incurred at the Site both before and after the Buyer acquired it. View "Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection v. Trainer Custom Chemical LLC" on Justia Law

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From 1910 until 1986, Greenlease Holding Co. (“Greenlease”), a subsidiary of the Ampco-Pittsburgh Corporation (“Ampco”), owned a contaminated manufacturing site in Greenville, Pennsylvania. Trinity Industries, Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Trinity Industries Railcar Co. (collectively, “Trinity”), acquired the site from Greenlease in 1986 and continued to manufacture railcars there until 2000. An investigation by Pennsylvania into Trinity’s waste disposal activities resulted in a criminal prosecution and eventual plea-bargained consent decree which required, in relevant part, that Trinity remediate the contaminated land. That effort cost Trinity nearly $9 million. This appeal arose out of the district court’s determination that, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”), and Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (“HSCA”), Trinity was entitled to contribution from Greenlease for remediation costs. The parties filed cross-appeals challenging a number of the district court’s rulings, including its ultimate allocation of cleanup costs. The Third Circuit ultimately affirmed the district court on several pre-trial rulings on dispositive motions, vacated the cost allocation determination and remanded for further proceedings. View "Trinity Industries Inc v. Greenlease Holding Co." on Justia Law

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From 1910-1986, Greenlease owned the Greenville Pennsylvania site and operated railcar manufacturing facilities there. Trinity acquired the site from Greenlease in 1986 and continued to manufacture railcars there until 2000. A state investigation of Trinity’s waste-disposal activities resulted in criminal prosecution and, eventually, a plea-bargained consent decree, requiring that Trinity remediate the contaminated land. That effort cost Trinity nearly $9 million. The district court held that, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601 (CERCLA), and Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act, Trinity is entitled to contribution from Greenlease for remediation costs. After eight years of litigation, and having sorted through a century of historical records, the court allocated 62% of the total cleanup costs to Greenlease and the remainder to Trinity. The Third Circuit affirmed pre-trial rulings on dispositive motions but vacated the cost allocation determination. The agreement between Trinity and Greenlease did not shift liability away from Greenlease after a three-year contractual indemnification period expired. Trinity’s response costs were necessary and reasonable. The court’s methodology, however, failed to differentiate between different remediation activities and their varied costs, and, as applied, treated data measured in square feet as equivalent to data measured in cubic yards. View "Trinity Industries Inc v. Greenlease Holding Co" on Justia Law

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About 99.5% of the Orion Project, 12.9 miles of pipeline looping that would transport an additional 135,000 dekatherms per day of natural gas through Pennsylvania, would run alongside existing pipelines. According to Riverkeeper, construction will lead to deforestation, destruction of wetland habitats, and other forms of environmental damage. Riverkeeper asserts that such damage can be avoided by building or upgrading a compressor station. The Army Corps of Engineers, which administers certain provisions of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1344(a), 1362(7) issued a Section 404 permit approving the project. The Third Circuit rejected Riverkeeper’s challenge. The Corps considered the compression alternative but rejected it for reasons supported by the record. While the compression alternative would disturb less land, its impact would be mostly permanent. The pipeline project would disturb more land, but its impact would be mostly temporary. In making a policy choice between those environmental tradeoffs, the agency’s discretion “was at its apex.” View "Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. United States Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Scott Township in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania enacted an ordinance that authorizes officials to enter upon any property within the Township to determine the existence and location of any cemetery. The ordinance compels property owners to hold their private cemeteries open to the public during daylight hours. Knick challenged the ordinance as authorizing unrestrained searches of private property in violation of the Fourth Amendment and as taking private property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. While the “ordinance is extraordinary and constitutionally suspect,” important justiciability considerations preclude reaching the merits. Because Knick conceded that her Fourth Amendment rights were not violated and failed to demonstrate that they imminently will be, Knick lacks standing to advance her Fourth Amendment challenge. Knick’s Fifth Amendment claims are not ripe until she has sought and been denied just compensation using Pennsylvania’s inverse condemnation procedures, as required by Supreme Court precedent. View "Knick v. Township of Scott" on Justia Law

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The Township of Tredyffrin Zoning Hearing Board of Appeals denied an application by DePolo, a federally licensed amateur or “ham” radio enthusiast, to build a 180-foot radio antenna tower on his property so that he could communicate with other ham radio operators around the world. The property is surrounded by mountains or hills. He claimed a shorter tower would not allow him to reliably communicate with other ham radio operators. The ZHBA agreed to a tower that was 65-feet tall as a reasonable accommodation under the applicable zoning ordinance prohibition on buildings taller than 35 feet. DePolo did not appeal that decision to the Chester Court of Common Pleas as allowed under state law, but filed a federal suit, claiming that zoning ordinance was preempted by 47 C.F.R. 97.15(b), and the closely related FCC declaratory ruling, known as PRB-1. The district court dismissed, finding that the ZHBA had offered a reasonable accommodation and that the zoning ordinance was not preempted by PRB-1. The Third Circuit rejected an appeal. DePolo’s failure to appeal the ZHBA’s determination to state court rendered the decision final, entitled to the same preclusive effect that it would have had in state court. View "Depolo v. Tredyffrin Twp. Bd. of Supervisors" on Justia Law

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Columbia, an interstate natural gas company subject to the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), seeks to replace a portion of a natural gas pipeline that runs in and around York County, Pennsylvania. Because the original location of the pipeline has become heavily populated, the replacement will not track the original line but will be outside the existing right of way. To obtain easements necessary to complete construction of the replacement, in 2013, Columbia filed Complaints in Condemnation against four Landowners in federal court. The district court held that Columbia did not have the right of eminent domain required to condemn the easements, reasoning that 18 C.F.R. 157.202(b)(2)(i), was ambiguous. The Third Circuit reversed, finding that the regulation clearly anticipates replacement outside the existing right of way and contains no adjacency requirement. The district court erroneously adopted its own definition of “replace” and concluded that a “notice” of “proposed rulemaking” for “Emergency Reconstruction of Interstate Natural Gas Facilities” promulgated by FERC after 9/11 was relevant. View "Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC v. 1.01 Acres in Penn Twp" on Justia Law

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Ownership of the Somerville property has changed many times. It has been used for manufacturing, for machining military parts during World War II, and as warehouses for commercial and industrial tenants, including JANR. The soil and the groundwater became contaminated, likely beginning in the 1940s, when a degreasing agent was dumped on the ground. Contamination worsened after 1983 when improper storage of hazardous waste in the JANR warehouse resulted in spills and leaks. Remedial actions may have contributed to the contamination. The current owner acquired the site in the 1980s. After several earlier suits concerning the contamination, the owner sued a former owner and the United States under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601, the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. 6972, and the New Jersey Sanitary Landfill Facility Closure Act and Contingency Fund. The district court entered summary judgment rejecting the RCRA claim, held a trial, and determined that the owner, the prior owners, and the United States were each liable for costs of remediation under CERCLA and the Spill Act and allocated percentages. The Third Circuit vacated with respect to award of prejudgment interest and the RCRA claim against the former owners, but otherwise affirmed. View "Litgo NJ, Inc. v. Comm'r NJ Dep't Envtl. Prot." on Justia Law

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The mall is bounded by a railroad track and drainage ditches owned by CSX. Houses beyond the track are higher than the track, which is higher than the mall. CSX’s predecessor installed a berm, straddling the property line, to prevent storm water from flowing onto the mall property. In 2010 storm water breached the berm. Runoff and debris from CSX’s property flowed down the slope and overwhelmed a private storm water inlet in the mall parking lot. CSX assured mall representatives that it planned a ditch to resolve the problem, but, instead, began constructing a spillway on the mall side of the berm to direct storm water into the mall’s drainage inlet. The mall manager discovered and immediately halted the work. The mall claimed negligence and continuing trespass. During discovery, the mall learned that CSX had refurbished the relevant portion of the track and argued that the modifications led to the discharge onto its property and that the discharge was evidence that CSX had violated, 49 C.F.R. 213.33, enacted under the Federal Railroad Safety Act. The district court granted CSX summary judgment, holding that the claims were blocked by the FRSA preemption provision. The Third Circuit vacated, noting the “constrained scope” of FRSA preemption. View "MD Mall Assocs. v. CSX Transp., Inc" on Justia Law

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Interstate requested approval for nine outdoor advertising signs along U.S. Interstate-295, a major transportation corridor. The township then adopted an ordinance prohibiting billboards. The district court dismissed a constitutional challenge. The Third Circuit affirmed. A reasonable fact-finder could not conclude that there was an insufficient basis for the township’s conclusion that its billboard ban would directly advance its stated goal of improving the aesthetics of the community. The fact that Interstate will not be able to reach the distinct audience of travelers that it desires to target does not mean that adequate alternative means of communication do not exist. The Supreme Court has acknowledged that complete billboard bans may be the only reasonable means by which a legislature can advance its interests in traffic safety and aesthetics. View "Interstate Outdoor Advertising, L.P. v. Zoning Bd., Twp of Mount Laurel" on Justia Law