Last night’s PennEast meeting at Razzberry’s in Frenchtown, NJ – Part 1

This is part 1 of my posting about last night’s informational meeting for landowners put on by PennEast at Razzberry’s in Frenchtown, NJ. Part 2 will cover events later in the evening.

There were two state trooper cars there when I arrived. Apparently there were peaceful protests at the lunch session. Normally that wouldn’t cause issues but apparently the owner of Razzberry’s took issue with them, freaked out a bit and called the troopers in. I heard the issue was straightened out without significant issue, people ensured they were off her property when protesting and then kept it up.

For the evening session there were no protestors but the cops were still there just in case.

Prior to the meeting there was a chance for individual landowners to consult with the land management people. This involved sitting a computer and seeing how the route impacted their property. Unfortunately the primary computers setup for this showed nothing but blurry blobs along the route with no details, so it was difficult for them to figure out any features along the route. I began asking them why the most recent re-route at the end of March changed the routing so that the pipeline was now wrapping around two sides of my property.

The woman at the computer didn’t know, and called over another more knowledgeable person to help. He didn’t know either. I was then shuttled over to another “special” computer with a better setup with a third “expert” and a forth person working the computer

As an aside – the “special”-ness of the computer is that it had the full route info loaded on Google Earth. Why they didn’t do that on all of them? Because the Google Earth route files are jam packed with tons of information not available to the public, including the exact JCP&L easement areas as compared to the pipeline survey corridor. I caught onto this pretty quickly and stared long and hard at the power line easement vs. the pipeline route as they were showing me features. What it showed in the southern part of West Amwell and the Baldpate areas was that the pipeline route is very clearly not going along the existing cleared areas but will require much more cutting to widen the area. I asked expert #3 about and he responded affirmatively. “Yeah, we can’t put the pipeline right under the electrical towers so we are going to have to put the pipeline adjacent to them”. I asked him if it would fit within the current cut areas, and he responded “No. We’re trying to minimize it but we are going to have to cut a wider path in many areas to accommodate construction”.

Back to my question about the re-routing – the “special” computer apparently had a terrible internet connection and could only show fuzzy blobs like the other ones. Finally the shuttled me to a third computer system manned by a fifth person operating it. The original 2nd person I talked to was now consulting with the 3rd, and indicated “I’ll bet there’s some physical feature here that’s the reason”. I started explaining everything in the shot and they looked baffled. They called over a 6th person who was the “true expert on all things routing”. He shook his head and said “I have no idea why that re-route was done”.

In the end the 1st person took down my name and phone number, and the 3rd person then promised they would research the issue and get back to me immediately. He apologized about 15 times why saying all of this.

While going through this process I over heard other people talking to the land management folks. One said “I’m sorry, we don’t know much at all about the route. It’s all just done via aerial imagery in programs like Google Earth. Then in this process we find out from the public where we went wrong”.

The PennEast staff made it abundantly clear throughout the night that they knew almost nothing about important features along the route, and specifically said that NJ was “new to them” and they were “still learning”.

While the team of 6 were debating the issue around my property, I asked them other questions along the route near me as well. I asked expert #3, “Do you guys know you have the pipeline going less than 200 feet from Lambertville’s water supply, the Swan Creek Reservoir?”. He replied, “Yes, we’re aware of that. But we have a variety of techniques to minimize the impact and keep everything safe”.

I shot back, “You do know this is very hard diabase rock right at the surface, right?”. He looked a bit sheepish and said, “Uh, yeah, that’s going to be tough”.

I asked about the C1 streams they’d be crossing, and he said that almost all of them would use the dry “damming” technique. He said horizontal drilling underneath features would only be do for full blown rivers like the Delaware and under major roadways. He gave a song and dance about why horizontal drilling wouldn’t be used more often, “Well that takes longer, and the longer we stay in an area the great the chance of, well, things going wrong”. In reality the reason, of course, is that it costs a lot more to horizontal drill. But it was worth hearing his explanation as his was the first slip of many that night – an admission that things can and do go wrong with pipeline construction. This also means that streams are going to be diverted during construction, which is not a good thing (and why horizontal drilling is preferred).

I mentioned that we live in a very rural area with few roads, and said that closing just a few could close off entire areas from being able to leave their houses. Expert #6 nodded his head when I mentioned this and gave expert #3 a knowing look which basically telegraphed “I told you this was going to be an issue”. He said that they would try to horizontal drill under “major” roads but didn’t seem able to indicate what constitutes a “major” road (somehow I doubt our little Hewitt Road qualifies).

Towards the end of this part of the meeting I heard a distance on the other side of the room. A woman was getting very emotional and was yelling at the PennEast representatives. The gist was that PennEast was stone walling her and putting her family at risk, including her five grandchildren, but putting them all within the blast zone. The State Troopers later took her aside and warned her to stay civil and not “disrupt” the meeting. They explained this was a private venue and they would remove her if she continued to be a nuisance.

I was a bit on the fence about this. On the one hand it made some sense. It was a private venue and the owner had already demonstrated that they were twitchy about any disruptions at all. But at the same time these meetings are a mandatory part of the FERC review process. PennEast has to do these as part of FERC regulations. So that put a different spin on it in my mind – given the emotionally charged topic, and given that this pipeline is being put in our properties against our will – I think some outbursts of emotion and outrage are appropriate and to be expected.

Part 2 will go into the next formal presentation part of the meeting. This part was a true tour de force by PennEast of deception, inaccuracies, and downright incompetence. PennEast called factual documented issues with their justification “opinions”. They refused outright to discuss eminent domain at all. They cut people off “in the interest of time” (as if you can rush something this vitally important to people affected by it). They were caught out showing misleading pictures of post-pipeline construction. They were shown to have never followed up on answers they had promised way back in February. They even admitted that NJ was “new to them” and that they had never heard of many of the programs and issues that the audience was bringing up. It was still a “learning process” – which is a disquieting thing to hear from people who claim to be “experts” at building pipelines.

In general the PennEast “leaders” were shown time and time again by the audience to be either surprisingly clueless or exceptionally deceptive (I suspect it’s a mix of both). At the same time the audience gave exceptionally clear testimony about issues, and at times gave incredibly moving accounts of the pipeline’s impact on them, their families, and in the community.

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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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