The ongoing battle over whether the leviathan Sun Oil Co., the nation's largest distributor and marketer of finished petroleum,
has the right to clear out trees over an underground pipeline on town-owned land appears to be heading closer to court.
The controversy centers on Koenig Road,
a street of behemoth-sized trees and small
but picturesque homes off Niagara Falls
Boulevard, near the Youngmann Highway in
the Town of Tonawanda.
Sun officials contend that they "must" fell
those trees that are near their 58-year-old
pipeline, along a right of way that has never
been cleared, to facilitate easier access and
inspection. Many in town, including Koenig
residents and Town Supervisor Carl J. Cal-
abrese, oppose Sun's plan which, if effected, would practically denude the south
side of Koenig of many of its stately and
most strikingly majestic and towering trees.
Thus far, Calabrese has put a halt to
Sun's plans. Invoking section 197-3a of the
town code, which prohibits removing road-
side trees without a permit, and which, if
granted, could come only after an environmental review, Calabrese has forbidden
Sun to carry out their tree-cutting project.
"If they send anybody with a chain saw,
then they better be prepared to bail them
out," he said. "As fast as you can say
'Sun,' I will instruct the town police to arrest
However, Sun, in turn, has refused to
comply with the town's permit-granting process to date. Their Philadelphia-based attor-
neys, Hancock and Estabrook wrote in a 17
page memorandum that "tree removal ordinances ... are not enforceable with respect
to Sun Oil's right of way," further suggesting that a court of law would overrule Calabrese's fiat.
"If it has to go to court then so be it,"
Calabrese responded. "(But) unless a judge
orders it, Sun Oil is not going to take down
one publicly-owned tree, and if we lose in
court, we're going to appeal it.
"If there really was a problem, I could
dispatch a highway crew to take down a
tree immediately," Calabrese added, discounting Sun's oft-repeated claim that their
tree removal project is a "safety" issue.
"What they really want to do is cut..the
trees for their own convenience to facilitate
Operators of underground petroleum
pipelines are required by federal regulations to walk by, drive by, or fly over pipelines at least 26 times a year to check tor
evidence of leakage. Only aerial inspections
require a clear-cut right of way:
Sun spokesman Bud Davis, giving a clue
as to the severity of the problem from Sun's
perspective, indicated that the company has
already cleared 228 of 252 miles of the
pipeline for aerial inspection and if they
were to be stopped at Koenig, it would "set
The corporation, which employs 14,000
people and grossed $9.8 billion in 1994,
owns or operates 7,000 miles of pipeline.
Erie County legislator Charles M. Swanick
(D-Kenmore), at the behest of Koenig residents, has been closely monitoring the dispute.
He sides with the residents, and is prepared to take the issue countywide, if necessary, through a legislative action in the
county legislature which would memorialize
their opposition to Sun's tree-cutting
"If I were Sun Oil, I would look at this
closely. You cannot have the neighbors
maintain an area and beautify an area for
58 years and then come along and suddenly
turn the land to dust," Swanick said. "They
(Sun) are part of the Western New York
family. I would consider, carefully, if I were
them, that there are a lot of places where
Western New Yorkers can buy gasoline."
Sun Oil is the parent company of Sunoco,
one of the leading retailers of finished petroleum In Western New York.