Hunterdon County Board of Freeholders talks of “draconian measures”

I heard John King speak at the Hunterdon County FERC scoping meeting. He sounded extremely reasonable, gave well thought-out arguments. And it was clear he was severely pissed at PennEast and the FERC.

John is the director of the Hunterdon County Board of Freeholders, so his words carry some weight.

He opens:

The subject of the Penn East natural gas pipeline has sparked comment and controversy since the unveiling of the project’s concept last year. This Freeholder Board withheld judgment to afford the pipeline’s proponents and critics a fair hearing and consider additional issues affecting Hunterdon County as a whole. In light of the facts before us, we are compelled to oppose Penn East’s application.

Like many people (myself included), he and the rest of the board was not instantly against the PennEast pipeline. He was willing to listen to what they had to say and see what benefits they might afford us.

From my POV, what he found is that:

1) This pipeline is not meant to benefit the people of New Jersey. Any such benefit would be mere side line of opportunity, not the main point.

2) The choice of route is incredibly bad.

3) They are choosing the easy way instead of the ethical way.

In his words:

Our objections are based upon (1) the disregard of potential alternate paths using existing easements that may result in the abuse of eminent domain to destroy conservation easements and pre-empt County open space policy; (2) the insufficiency of proposed compensation to affected landowners; (3) the threat of construction- generated water contamination in specific neighborhoods serviced by private wells; and (4) the absence of a lasting public benefit outweighing the burdens upon homeowners in
the project’s path.

He goes on to point out how PennEast is almost systematically wiping out Open Space conservation easements in the County, and is not even trying to find alternatives.

Among the properties lying in the proposed pipeline’s path are 23 farms constituting 2,007 acres of County-preserved open space. If approved, the Penn East pipeline would necessarily extinguish the County’s conservation easements of those those farms and trump a County open space policy mandated by three successive voter referenda. This issue alone warrants our opposition.

Moreover, Penn East has raised the specter of eminent domain —presumably to thwart the County’s defense of its interests in the preserved open space. This threat arises despite the existence of alternate routes within established public utility rights-of-way, including similar pipeline easements.. It is our understanding that Penn East has not contacted some utility companies to negotiate co-location of its pipeline within their easements. A judicial taking of property for use by a for-profit corporation should always be a last resort. We will never support a proposal that threatens the condemnation of land where less draconian measures of property acquisition have not first been exhausted.

The above issue is one of the biggest ones I personally have with PennEast. They aren’t even really trying here. Their route choices are predominantly based on playing with Google Earth, and a single aerial reconaissance. If they were serious about minimizing impacts they would do real surveys before even getting the FERC involved.

John goes on to talk about the inadequate compensation involved:

Penn East also proposes inadequate —and therefore unjust —compensation to Hunterdon taxpayers in the project’s path. The utility conglomerate merely proposes to pay owners the one-time loss of value attributed to the new encumbrance on property. Pipelines earn continuous profits potentially to include additional revenue from other public utilities. The benefits Penn East would reap from any targeted property are analogous to those received by wireless providers from cell. towers. Wireless companies place cell towers on another’s property with an agreement to provide the owner with a
stream of income, much like a lease. When the company leases those towers to other wireless providers, the land owner receives additional income due to the third party’, commercial use of the owner’s land. Properly owners in the pipeline’s path should be treated no diiferently. Thus, if Penn East is going to earn continuous profits from the exploitation of the land of another, it should make that owner a partner.

The issue of people’s wells is of course well known. He argues that PennEast must avoid these entirely.

Construction disturbance near a local drinking water supply raises contamination concerns. The proposed project slices through 53 acres of Tier 1 well protection areas —neighborhoods with residents overwhelmingly dependent on the consumption of well water. Prior local experience with drinking water contamination caused by poorly supervised construction near an existing transfer station proves that a potential threat to the well protection area is a well-founded misgiving. In fact, we would prefer that any pipeline be routed around this area entirely.

On the question of who benefits, PennEast again fails to give us any useful information.

The usual benefit of a pipeline passing near a neighborhood is access to the natural gas running through it. In the public hearings, however, Penn East could not guarantee that this pipeline would connect a single additional residence to natural gas in any time frame beneficial to current homeowners. In fact, our County is poorly served by natural gas due to the nature of its dispersed rural population. As a result, our homeowners are unlikely to reap much of any corresponding reduction in the cost of natural gas because so few County residents have access to it.

He closes with the point that the main issue is not the source of the gas. It’s an issue for some but not all. But that the route is nearly wrecklessly determined and will not benefit us.

To be clear, this Board has not swallowed whole every argument brandished by critics of Penn East’s application. We do not oppose the principle of constructing underground pipelines to transport natural gas. This method of delivering energy to consumers has proven far less dangerous than alternate means of transport: ship, truck and rail. Natural gas ibrelf is known to be a much cleaner burning fuel than this region’s other major sources of electricity, such as oil and coal. Secondly, several natural gas pipelines already cross Hunterdon County and have existed for decades. We do not subscribe to the notion that the mere presence of an additional pipeline within our County’s borders is a sufficient basis to oppose this project.

As proposed, however, the Penn East project unnecessarily threatens property rights at the Constitutional sword point of eminent domain, and offers no prospect of just compensation for the land it targets for lease or condemnation. The pipeline’s construction endangers an identifiable drinking water supply and fails to deliver the only lasting benefit that such a project can offer atfected neighborhoods: connection to natural gas. Thus, the Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders shall resolve to oppose the proposed configuration of the Penn East pipeline.

The Hunterdon County Board of Freeholder’s submission is available below:

Hunterdon County Freeholders Submissio – FERC Generated PDF

Hunterdon County Freeholders Submissio – 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 three cats Ponce de Leon, Oliver, and Doolittle.

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