People living near MarkWest’s processing plant in Chartiers Township are being invited to a picnic and open house with company officials that both groups hope will foster a good relationship and better understanding of each other’s needs.
Robert McHale, a company spokesman, called Wednesday night’s invitation-only picnic a “nice gesture” to sit down with nearby residents to introduce them to the staff, listen to their concerns and even give them a tour of the facility.
“We need to do more, in my opinion, and we have to be engaged with our neighbors,” McHale said. “We’re hoping this becomes a regular deal so we have a chance to get together with them more than just once.”
He said the open house is not in response to the lightning strike at the natural gas processing plant May 28 that caused a leak inside the complex and prompted the evacuation of about 100 nearby residents. However, they are inviting the same people who were affected by the evacuations, although McHale said only a few residents responded to initial letters after the incident offering tours of the facility.
The picnic is welcome news to Marian Roupe, who has lived on Western Avenue for about 40 years. She wants to ask company officials and local first responders about the evacuation plans and environmental concerns since her ranch home is about a mile from the facility.
“Should something like that happen again, we need to know what to do beforehand,” Roupe said. “I’m surprised they didn’t do it before, but we didn’t even think about it until it happened. We really didn’t know, and no one really knew about (the evacuation plan), but they got us where we needed to go.”
Roupe, who spent about 90 minutes at the Chartiers Township fire hall during the May 28 evacuation, is interested in touring the facility to have a better understanding of how it works and what safety protocols are in place.
“I would be happy to go see that,” she said. “I hope that the people around here will go because I think we need to see it. If they offer it, we need to go.”
One of her longtime neighbors, Robert Washabaugh, said he isn’t bothered by living so close to the processing plant and wasn’t concerned about the natural gas leak, which initially was thought to be an explosion or fire. He added that he would have preferred to stay at home after the leak but understood why emergency responders forced them to evacuate.
“We’ve haven’t had any problems with them,” Washabaugh said. “It will be nice to meet with them so they know who their neighbors are.”
That’s what McHale said the company hopes is the focal point of the open house and picnic. MarkWest is hosting the same type of event at similar processing plants in Ohio and West Virginia. He added that residents can ask any questions or discuss any topics with workers and first responders.
“This is really just a chance for our neighbors to interact with our employees so we have a better dialogue,” McHale said.
Only those who received invitations from the company will be permitted at the picnic, McHale said.