One family’s PennEast Story

When people ask me why I started this blog, I always relate the story of how I started searching through the FERC docket for PennEast and was struck by the poignancy and sheer brilliance of some of the submissions.  These aren’t documents written up by a lobbying firm or copy edited by a marketing team.  They’re not paid advertisements.  None of it’s coming from professional reporters.  They’re just the sincere thoughts of ordinary residents in the area.  After I had read my 20th or so submission I knew I had to publicize some of these stories.

This is one of them.

Winifred and Jeffrey Waldron live in Holland Township.  I highlighted one of their FERC submissions awhile back:

They have a beautiful property in Holland, 7.5 acres of land in the rolling hills that are a major attraction of this section of Hunterdon County. In an earlier FERC submission Winifred describes what their property is like and what it means to them:

I grew up in a rural area and planned to raise my family in a similar environment here in New Jersey, “The Garden State”. When I completed my residency program, my husband and I had to decide where we going to settle our family. While touring different properties, we found a secluded, flag lot, surrounded by trees, not too far from the road, on a hillside with a little stream running through the woods and no easements. Even in the winter, it was a gem. I had fallen in love with the land as soon as I saw it. I was already imagining sledding with the kids on the hillside, gardening, exploring the woods and stream. We have lived here for more than 10 years now. We have invested in the land, removing debris dumped in the woods and stream, planting trees and cultivating the soil for the gardens, fruit trees and berries.

You can imagine my resentment when the Western Land Services land agent, Larry Gilbert, showed up at my home and threatened to take my land when I balked at the thought of having a natural gas pipeline constructed through my property. The agent reminded me “this is New Jersey and we have eminent domain”.

Visiting children call our house, “The house with the playground”, or the “park”. They are referring to the multiple places outside to explore. Our children and their friends have had sleep overs – camping in the back yard. They play hide and seek in the woods. In August, we watch the meteorite showers from the hill. We have campouts in the backyard and use our fire pit on warm summer nights. We watch the bats dipping down to snatch bugs attracted to the lights.

I was nodding my head as I was reading this because Winifred’s description reminds me so much of our property in West Amwell. Ironically we also have a flag lot and fire pit :-). All of Hunterdon county is like this, it’s a remarkable area that takes people familiar with the eastern portion of the state by surprise.

Winifred’s complete original submission is available below. I recommend everyone take a look, the style is a delight to read and the facts and analysis are sobering.

You would think that people like the Waldrons who have spent a considerable amount of time researching this pipeline and objecting to many aspects of it would be able to catch PennEast’s attention, right? Maybe they would sit and up and listen to dedicated individuals like this?

Nope. Jeffrey and Winifred wrote to me a couple of weeks ago to share the frustrations they’ve had in dealing with PennEast and the endless layers of deceit and trickery they’ve had to endure. To get a better picture the impact PennEast is going to have on them, here’s a shot of their property (outlined in red) with the 400′ pipeline survey corridor in blue:

They begin:

Hi Michael,

I am also an affected landowner of Penn East in Holland NJ and I wanted to thank you for your recent submission scolding Penn East to tell truth. The pipeline cuts my property literally in half and is currently situated to be approximately 150’ from my house and well. My barn is in the construction corridor and Penn East will not make any statement on its status (whether it be leveled or not) unless we grant permission to survey- which we are also continuing to deny.

Our initial exposure to Penn East was Larry Gilbert from Western Land Services last August. He came in our home and showed us the map of the pipeline on our property. When we pointed out how it would cut us in half, his response was, “Oh well”.

When we refused permission to survey, he told us our property would be surveyed without our permission and that if we felt the need to be “uncooperative” that our land would be taken from us using eminent domain.

We attended 3 of the 4 open houses in PA and NJ to register our dismay and get more information. We got no information as we were passed along from one person to another and Mr. Gilbert was at every meeting despite Mr. Cox telling me at the first meeting “that is not how we do business”. I guess that’s a lie too that further evidence has proved out. We complained to the FERC representative, Medha Kochhar, at the final open house regarding all of this and we were passed on to Alyssa Harris who promised to call us in 48 hours to review our concerns. Our phone has still not rung. At the landowners meeting in Holland in April, she presented her card to my wife who pointed out we were still waiting for a phone call. Ms. Harris had no response and still no call.

If you’ve read my notes from the Frenchtown PennEast landowners meeting, then what the Waldrons are describing should be familiar to you.

If one or two people were complaining about PennEast abusing their trust and trying to force them to give survey permission you might pass it off as no big deal. But every land owner I’ve talked to has been pressured by PennEast the way the Waldrons have described, and are tired of getting a run around from PennEast. They smile and promise you answer to questions – and then they promptly forget it and never call you back. Repeated requests get the same smiling response, and still nothing ever happens.

The Waldrons conclude:

Our property, all 7.5 acres of it, is completely and clearly posted and we are fully prepared to take whatever legal action we must should they decide to trespass. We have grave concerns about the effects on the water, the wells, the trees and wildlife that this area so richly contains. A large portion of one half of our property is NJ designated wetlands and cannot be developed or manipulated, at least by us. We have taken great care to preserve and monitor those areas. Moving from Vermont, we never thought we could find property in NJ which could be this tranquil and native. We have nesting Bobolink birds and Jack in the Pulpit flowers on our property, both are listed as threatened/endangered species. We have Cooper Hawks and have had a few Bobcat sightings. We want to keep our property this way and are engaged in the fight. We also attended the Holland scoping meeting but were among the 20-30 people who were denied the opportunity to speak. Ironically, when we spoke to Ms. Kochhar from FERC at the open house, she told us we would have the opportunity to speak and express our concerns. Another lie. We did submit comprehensive comments but how seriously and completely they will be reviewed is another question especially given Tetra Tech’s status with Marcellus shale. It is like asking the fox to design the security system on the henhouse.

I am disheartened at what appears to be a rubber stamp from FERC and Penn East’s perception that they just have to check the boxes to get it done. Penn East shows no real concern or interest in the affected landowners, unless they need survey permission. I do not want to see their level of interest once they have it. They have already manipulated the maps and now have recently changes the mile markers and removed building structures etc. from their maps to further obfuscate the truth of the impact the pipeline will have. We hope to stay unified and further the fight and hope our government is actually responsive to the people they are sworn to serve. I constantly wonder how this pipeline promotes our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It seems that everybody forgets that’s why we have this country in the first place.

I could continue to rail on but realize that all of us that are affected have had bad experiences and continue to have worries. We must continue to persevere and stand united. I, we thank you for your time and efforts and we will continue the fight.

In response I can only thank them for all of the considerable time and effort they’ve spent fighting PennEast, and to stand with them and continue to fight. The best thing we can do collectively is to document all of our efforts, keep sending comments into FERC so they are officially logged, and most importantly to keep denying survey rights to PennEast. The one thing PennEast cannot do is come on your land to survey, they can only do that with your permission. Deny them that and they won’t physically be able to do their Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and thus won’t be able to build their pipeline.

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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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