Historic Stockton Farm Threatened by Pipeline

Dan and Carla from Stockton, NJ writes to the FERC:

Our property is a preserved farm of approximately 137 acres in Delaware Township NJ. The preferred alternative route for the pipeline that is currently proposed by PennEast would traverse the entire length of our acreage. We oppose this pipeline for many reasons which are of an economic, environmental, and legal basis.

First of all, economically, our farm would lose significant value if this pipeline is allowed to bisect it. The proposed alternative route appears to be very close to our residence. Assurances from PennEast employees notwithstanding, all real estate professionals with whom we have spoken have opined that property values would decrease dramatically. How does PennEast intend to compensate us for what we anticipated to be our retirement nest egg? The pittance they hope to pay for a right of way could not begin to approach the loss we will incur if our residence is located within the “impact zone” of a natural gas pipeline.

Many farmers have documented the loss of crop yields on land they use after pipelines have been constructed. We worked hard to establish high quality hay fields, on which we use minimal chemicals. The construction & maintenance of a natural gas pipeline through our farm fields will cause compaction of our loam soils, some of which have been rated as prime & in the top seventy five percentile of statewide importance. How does PennEast intend to protect our soils, allowing them to produce as they do now? The techniques currently employed to minimize damage to the soil strata have been shown as ineffective. The damage cannot be undone once the soil is torn apart & the layers separated. We will lose the use of our prime hay fields as well as suffer reduced yields where we are still able to farm.

Our farm is also of historical significance, having been in operation since the 1700s. In front of our house is a stone hitching post, next to a stone wagon mounting block. We have uncovered old wells & cisterns which were built with stones. The property is contingent to the Rosemont Agricultural Historical District in the area of New Jersey’s only remaining covered bridge.

Environmentally, there are many considerations. The first would be the already mentioned soil compaction. We also have two ponds, one of which is fed by Plum Brook, a stream traversing the northern, wooded section of our farm. Plum Brook is home to minks, beaver, & muskrat, to name a few. The brook feeds into the Wickecheoke Creek, which makes its way to the Delaware River. The pond in our forest contains many fish, including bass & many species of turtles. The pipeline is proposed to cut through Plum Brook, which will cause devastation to the wildlife habitat. To the south of Plum Brook is an open grassland area which we provide for the birds who nest in such areas. Bobolinks & Eastern Meadowlarks live here and breed; their numbers are in decline due to a lack of territory, so we feel it is necessary to set aside land where they will be able to thrive. Another bird in decline that we are involved in trying to help is the threatened American Kestrel. Our farm has been part of the New Jersey American Kestrel Nest Box Project for the past 5 or 6 years, allowing the state to place the nesting boxes on the utility poles which cross our hay fields. Many baby kestrels have been born & banded here. Putting this pipeline adjacent to the power line will increase the already hot summer temperatures, making the survival of these precious babies less likely.

Legally, we have concerns about the selection of preserved farmland for a pipeline. As owners of a preserved farm, we are legally obligated to abide by five pages of deed restrictions. One of these restrictions reads as follows:

“No sand, gravel, loam, rock, or other minerals shall be deposited on or removed from the Premises excepting only those materials required for the agricultural purpose for which the land is being used.”

Another restriction follows:

“No activity shall be permitted on the Premises which would be detrimental to drainage, flood control, water conservation, erosion control, or soil conservation, nor shall any other activity be permitted which would be detrimental to the continued agricultural use of the Premises.”.
How can we be bound by law to uphold restrictions to the use of our property, yet a private company could be allowed by the FERC to violate those legal encumbrances?

We have sacrificed & struggled to return this farm from the neglected, fallow fields we originally found here, to a productive, self sufficient homestead. Our electricity is completely solar generated. We grow our own vegetables & hay for our horses. We try to live frugally, with respect for the land, mindful of our carbon footprint. We pay our taxes & our mortgage. This is our dream, the American Dream. Allowing the PennEast pipeline to be constructed through our farm would turn that dream into a nightmare. We will stand with our neighbors & refuse to allow this private, for-profit LLC access to our land. No action should be the determination by FERC in PennEast’s bid to destroy our preserved lands.

Like Dan and Carla I don’t understand how eminent domain can be used to take away land protected by the state. Doing a little research I came upon the following article – this discusses electrical power lines instead of gas ones, but I believe the principles are the same:

Protected Conservation Easements from Eminent Domain

The article states:

With respect to property owned wholly by a private entity, the FERC permit would entitle the permit holder to acquire a necessary right-of-way by eminent domain if the holder could not acquire the right-of-way through negotiation with the property owner. The court with jurisdiction over the condemnation proceedings would determine the just compensation owed, which would be the fair market value of the property on the date of the condemnation (including applicable severance damages).26
FERC permit holders may not, however, condemn property owned by the United States or a state. The 824p(e) exception states:

In the case of a permit under subsection (b) for electric transmission facilities to be located on property other than property owned by the United States or a State, . . . the permit holder may acquire the right-of-way by the exercise of the right of eminent domain[.]
(Emphasis added.) Thus, because the exception precludes the use of eminent domain, if FERC were to issue a permit for a transmission facility slated to cross any federal or state property, the permit holder would need to reach agreement with the federal or state agency responsible for managing that property in order to obtain a right-of-way.27

The scope of the 824p(e) exception is uncertain. Whether the exception prohibits condemnation of partial interests in land (such as conservation easements) held or co-held by federal or state government has not been indicated by Congress and not yet determined by a court. The 824p(e) exception will apply to partial interests in land to the extent that these interests are considered “property,” and can be “owned.” Conservationists and some land management agencies presumably will seek an expansive interpretation of these terms to maximize the scope of the 824p(e) exception. DOE, FERC, and utility companies, in contrast, are likely to seek a narrow interpretation of these terms to maximize siting options.

So the question becomes, can farmland and Open Spaces protected by NJ open spaces easements be protected in this manner? I wish I knew the answer. I know all local conservation organizations up to the county level are against the pipeline (the Hunterdon County Board of Freeholders gave a resounding speech against the pipeline last night at the FERC scoping meeting). I have several state representatives and senators are against the pipeline. But I haven’t found any documentation on state agencies weighing in.

Carla and Dan’s submission is below:

Carla and Dan’s submission – FERC Generated PDF

Carla and Dan’s submission – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

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Mike Spille

I'm a thinker, an analyzer, a synthesizer. Maybe not in that order. I live in West Amwell NJ with my wife Kristina, our two kids Day and Z, our two dogs Fern and Cinna, and two cats Ponce de Leon and Xavier.

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