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

Delaware Township Citizens Against the Pipeline

There are a number of “CAP” organizations (Citizens Against the Pipeline) that have risen up against the PennEast Pipeline since it’s been proposed. One of them is DT-CAP – the Delaware Township chapter. Their submission states:

The Delaware Township Citizens Against the Pipeline, Inc. (DT-CAP) is a New Jersey not-for-profit furthering the following mission:

“To preserve and protect an irreplaceable community rich in farming and historic culture; to prevent the destruction of endangered species’ habitats and fragile watershed ecosystems; to defend our thriving agricultural and recreational economies; to safeguard our citizens’ proactive investment in conserved and preserved farms and woodlands; and to oppose PennEast pipeline as it will irrevocably impact the safety and integrity of our human environment.”

Our constituents include numerous property owners located within the path of the proposed pipeline route identified in PennEast’s January 13, 2015 Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Planned PennEast Pipeline Project, Request for Comments on Environmental Issues, and Notice of Public Scoping Meetings (NOI). Additionally, our constituents include numerous property owners located within the path of the preferred alternative route, submitted to FERC on January 16, 2015. Members of DT-CAP participated in the open meetings conducted by PennEast in Delaware Township on September 29, 2014 and at South Hunterdon High School on November 13, 2014, and have attended additional public meetings and requested further information directly from PennEast regarding this application. Accordingly, DT-CAP is an interested party in this matter and direct notification to DT-CAP is required.

First, please be advised that DT-CAP does not support either the “preferred alternative route” or the proposed original route due to the detrimental impacts both routes will cause to the environment, watershed, local economies, homeowner property rights, and taxpayer investments in the preserved and conserved lands of Delaware Township. DT-CAP opposes any additional natural gas pipelines in Delaware Township.

PennEast has not identified how the pipeline would be located with respect to the existing utility easement within Delaware Township. It is DT-CAP’s understanding that “co-location” is misleading in that the existing electrical utility easement must be widened, and in some locations, the pipeline may be near and not within the existing easement for power lines. Additionally, the existing above-ground utility within this easement is maintained in a different manner than is required for underground pipelines, and does not currently have the subsurface impacts which would occur when locating a pipeline. Therefore, co-location is inadequate to reduce negative environmental impacts. Additionally, the widening or nearby location of the pipeline as well as temporary constructions areas will impact lands currently not utilized for utility easements, and will have negative impacts on groundwater quality, farmland, and numerous additional resource values within Delaware Township. Additionally, the proposed alternative route requires the taking of property rights from property owners not in support of this project.

Second, the location, timing, and number of scoping meetings are inadequate and inconsistent with FERC regulations for the EIS scoping process.

The proposed alternative route has been submitted to FERC on January 15, 2015, only 12 days prior to the one and only scoping meeting to be held in New Jersey and only 28 days prior to the deadline for written comment as stated in the NOI. The January 27, 2015 New Jersey scoping meeting is not situated within the project area. And the announcement for the scoping meeting identifies the original route, with no reference to the proposed alternative route. Landowners and interested parties have not been provided adequate time to evaluate the proposed alternative route. The NOI must be re-issued to identify the proposed route and to provide further opportunity for public input. The coping period must be significantly extended with additional meetings scheduled, including meetings within the project area, and including at least one meeting scheduled in Hunterdon County, New Jersey.

DT-CAP and its members are prejudiced by PennEast’s failure to engage in a meaningful opportunity for discussion. PennEast submitted the proposed alternative route after announcing its intent to conduct scoping. PennEast provided inadequate time for scoping and inadequate advance notice of scoping meetings. And PennEast is engaging in scoping without identifying whether there are known safety and engineering constraints which would necessitate a widening of the existing utility easement, which is narrower in Delaware Township than it is in other affected municipalities. These errors cause material prejudice to those interested parties seeking to provide meaningful input during the scoping process.

Their submission is below:

DT-CAP Submission – FERC Generated PDF

DT-CAP Submission – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

From Brooklyn to Hunterdon

Annalisa from Delaware Township tells of her family moving to NJ to build a better life for themselves.

I am a resident of Delaware Township who is strongly opposed to allowing a 36”, or the newly proposed, 42” natural gas pipeline to be constructed through this precious, preserved area of Hunterdon County. My family and I have lived in Delaware Township since 1959 when my parents purchased 73 acres on Pine Hill Rd for 20,000 dollars. They were working class, first generation Italian-Americans who moved originally from Brooklyn, NY to Princeton, New Jersey, in hopes of building a better life for themselves and their 5 children in the beautiful “Garden” state. Over these 56 years in Delaware TWP, our family members all worked, sold land, in to renovate, as we could afford, our 1725 historic stone home, including an 1850 frame colonial section added to the original structure. Over five decades we have worked to upgrade our home to make it more energy efficient and functional by modern standards. As working- class/struggling middle class citizens, we have farmed, recycled, gardened and otherwise maintained what we can of our remaining property. This gem of bucolic, pristine forest we love, was earned through many personal and economic trials. As members of this community, we are invested in protecting our personal investment, as well as, the community’s rights and investment in maintaining this culturally and ecologically rich, yet delicate, land.

Our family has worked together, repaired, restored and invested our love, bodily strength and hard-earned dollars in maintaining this historic property. The 10 acres of land my family has been able to hold onto is aptly named “The Pines” –pine trees planted by the “Civilian Conservation Corps” in the 1940’s. President Roosevelt’s plan promoted both economic and ecological restoration to our country’s political and physical landscape. Several early American artifacts have been uncovered and proudly displayed upon (rare) hand-hewn chestnut beams and massive jingle stone fire place mantels for all to see. This is but one small, sentimental example of what exists across our historic Hunterdon County. Even though the proposed Penn East Pipeline routes do not appear to directly cut through our land, it is representative of what thousands of citizens hold near and dear to their hearts- and of what could be at risk. We will stand with our fellow citizens to protect their lives, family legacies and lands. We are all the same: Vulnerable to exploitation, marginalization and complete disenfranchisement in this rapidly growing trend to control and ultimately deplete our natural resources, for profit. The financial short-term gains for the very few will bankrupt our ecology, destroy a multitude of wildlife species, denature presently cultivated lands to become unproductive and useless; and, ultimately, to break the spirits of many humans. The Delaware water shed will not continue to maintain balance or be able to continue to supply clean water to millions of households and industries if constant encroachment and depletion of protected lands in our small state escalates. There is also some discussion that the pipeline may actually end up as an overseas project to provide gas to Europe. I do not know this to be fact, but I do believe we must be hyper-vigilant in preparing for such a possibility. Based on the dishonesty and efforts of Penn East interests to this point, I feel we will need unrelenting accountability as the application process moves forward. The magnitude of such a project would further prove that this stretch of damaging pipeline and concomitant interference with geologic, botanic and soil integrity, among the many aforementioned destruction of nature, will serve to prove that our community would be employed simply as means to someone else’s end. Proposing that any large energy company be allowed to ravage the “preserved” and protected farmlands, forest, still –viable natural water supplies, and dwindling species of wildlife native to our small state, is unconscionable. Once again, a few powerful, avaricious players in big business will benefit financially to a level of obscene proportions, while thousands of citizens will lose the values of their own hard-earned investments. Middle class and working class people are still hanging on in this egregiously –bloated economic climate of high taxes, diminished economic returns via employment and cost of living demands. Now, to have a life-time’s worth of toil and careful investment in their piece of the American pie, so to speak, be denatured and devalued, is barbaric.

It is time to invest in cleaner, life and land-preserving energy production and preservation. This historically rich area of New Jersey also serves as a thriving ecosystem and living testament to what our beautiful country can provide for generations to come. We are one community of many who will fall prey to rampant, planet- altering destruction if energy production and delivery is not carefully monitored, regulated and analyzed in service to the long term effects for all.
I would also like to add, that the scoping meetings arranged by the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee for the proposed Penn East pipeline are not located in or near Hunterdon County, across which a majority of the pipeline would be laid, if approved. Our community finds this to be insensitive at best, and wanton disregard, at worst, for the very residents who live in the path of this proposed pipeline. This project could prove to have potentially dangerous and devastating impacts on our community.

My family and I ask that you do not fast-track any scoping or application processes toward potential approval of the Penn East Pipeline. We ask that FERC please address our concerns and arrange for scoping meetings within Hunterdon County.

To give an idea of what Delaware Township is like, here’s a Google image of Lower Creek Road where the pipeline is proposed to go through:

Annalisa’s FERC submission is available below:

Annalisa from Delaware Township – FERC Generated PDF

Annalisa from Delaware Township – FERC Generated PDF Alternate site

Routing the pipeline through a Wellhead Protection Zone

Inside of tiny Delaware Township, NJ is an even smaller unincorporated town area called Rosemont, NJ.  You can see it in Google Earth below:

You can see the pipeline proposed corridor in purple in the upper right of the picture.

Bill lives in Rosemont, and like many of us he’s concerned about his well water.  But apparently in Rosemont things are even worse than your average well-based community in the region:

 

I am a long time resident of Rosemont NJ, a Historic designed town. I am extremely concerned with the proposed route for the PennEast pipeline and the fact that in the current plans it is going directly through our Well Head Protection Zone designated by the state of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection. Our town had water quality issues in the past which forced the town to provide safe drinking water through this township well. It would appear that PennEast did not do the necessary homework to understand that there was even a township well and that they were recommending a route through the protection zone. You can not allow the potential destruction of our well head protection zone, for if the well becomes polluted, the residents of Rosemont have no other alternative for safe water to our homes. We do not know what could happen during the construction of this pipeline, but the construction of this Pipeline has the high probability of affecting the entire water supply for the residents of Rosemont, Delaware Township, New Jersey. Please review this concern with extreme diligence and make sure that our drinking water supply is never impacted by disregarding the DEP Protection of this well. It was very disconcerting to think that for a project of this scope and magnitude, and the impact that it will have for all of the areas along the proposed route, that PennEast did not do their homework to understand, or even know, there was a protected zone in Rosemont. If this is an indication of for how well they will perform their duties in the future, I think there is serious reason for concern.

Please make sure you stand up for our safe water supply here in Rosemont, New Jersey, and our surrounding communities. The pipeline MUST be rerouted away from the protected well head zone. I would also like to understand should PennEast be able to bypass this DEP protection of our water supply, and should they significantly impact our supply of safe drinking water, what legal recourse do we as citizens have for the loss of our water supply and the resulting NEGATIVE impact that will have on home values, for without a safe water supply, our homes will be worthless.

As I read FERC comments and look through the PennEast documents I can’t stop shaking my head at what’s going on here. PennEast is willing to spend a billion dollars to build this pipeline but seems to have done exceptionally little planning on the picking their preliminary routes. They seem almost comically wreckless in their route choosing.

You can see Bill’s submission below:

Bill of Rosemont – FERC Generated PDF

Bill of Rosemont – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

Robbing a farm of its organic certification

Carina in Delaware township NJ submitted USDA documents to the FERC that certify her farm as organic. In her submission comments she states:

I have attached CRP contracts with the Hunterdon County USDA that certified my farmland as organic over a period of 10 years. The PennEast Pipeline would destroy them and negate the time and taxpayer $ spent under PF15-1.

Her submission is here:
Carina Delaware Township – FERC Generated PDF

Safety Concerns

A big point of contention between public opinion and the PennEast people is on the topic of safety.  People in the path of this pipeline are worried about this thing. It’s a 3 foot wide high pressure pipeline buried just a couple of feet under the surface of the ground, carrying a billion cubic feet of natural gas every day.  PennEast assures us this pipeline is “safe”, or at least as safe as they can make it.

But all things are relative, and safety is not an absolute but a continuum.  It’s not just a question of how statistically likely a breach or explosion of the pipeline is; it’s also about the damage that would be caused if the unthinkable did happen.  I grew up with natural gas in my family home, and my family accepted the risk of small 2″ gas pipelines coming into our home for the convenience and relative cheapness of it.  But 2″ is one thing.  A three foot pipeline carrying a billion cubic feet of natural gas PER DAY is another thing entirely.  I don’t want such a beast near my house.  And neither does Cara from Stockton.

I am an extremely concerned citizen from Delaware Township,NJ and am writing to express my strong opposition to the PennEast pipeline. My concerns are numerous. I am not sure what more that I can say that has not ALREADY been said here over and over, not only by other concerned citizens but by respected scientists and educators who understand the damage that this pipeline will do to our environment a lot better than I.

My greatest opposition to this pipeline is our safety and our health. The news has been more than alarming. A pipeline in West Virginia exploded this past Monday making it the fourth accident this month! I live on a property adjacent to my Mother’s. The alternate route that PennEast has proposed would run directly through her property, land that has been in our family for several generations. What can you do to assure us that she will be protected from one of these explosions? She is a two time cancer survivor and has chronic asthma which I saw on the EPA website can be exacerbated by gas emissions. Please tell me that she did not survive stage 4-lung cancer to now be subjected to possible explosions and contaminated water in our wells from a pipeline that we do NOT want or need?

The pipeline would also be approximately 2 miles from Delaware Township School, our local Elementary and Middle School. Our community does not have adequate emergency responders or resources should there be an evacuation or large-scale emergency. In addition, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA) only has 135 inspectors to oversee the 2.6 million miles of pipeline. It is strikingly evident that they cannot maintain what is already in existence!

Read her complete comments here:

Cara from Stockton – FERC Generated PDF