Photographing the pipeline route, Part 10: Revisiting Sanford Road

I received an email last night from Carla in Delaware Township.  She said that her farm was in one of the pictures I took on Sanford Road, and that there was a lot of interesting areas you couldn’t see from the road that would be impacted by the pipeline.  She offered me an invitation to come out and talk to her about her farm and the pipeline and take pictures along the way.

So my wife and I loaded up our two dogs (Fern, an American Fox hound, and Cinna, a pit bull mix) and drove on up.

When I met Carla she told me a little history of their farm. They bought the 137 acre property 16 years ago from a family who lived in Connecticut. Normally they would not be able to afford such a piece of land, but the Connecticut family worked with them and the purchase was part of a farm preservation agreement. This kept the farm permanently protected as farm land, and Carla and her husband got a farm with huge potential.

You can see their FERC submission below:

Carla and Dan’s FERC submission

Carla and Dan’s FERC submission Alternate Site

From her description the land was a bit of a mess when they got it. They’ve had to work hard to turn it into a productive farm that grows high quality hay. The same is true of the house, it was in pretty bad shape and they are still slowly renovating it into their dream home.

Their farm is long and somewhat narrow. Unfortunately the PennEast route goes right through the long part, running the entire length of the farm. It cuts right across their driveway, which will leave them unable to access their property during construction.

Carla graciously let me bring my camera and document some of the features on the property. It’s a good thing I brought my boots because the snow melt and rain has created acres and acres of mud on the property.

The Pond
A big feature of the farm and an area of deep concern related to the pipeline is a pond located on the farm. The pond is fed by Plum Brook, which is a tributary of the Wickecheoke Creek. The pipeline will be cutting across that waterway upstream from the pond, and any contamination from the construction will end up right in it.

Wider view of the pond
The pond is apparently man-made, it was created by a previous tenant by damning up the stream. A beaver apparently helped as well, it took down a lot of wood in the area to beef up the damning until someone shot it some time ago.

Closeup of the pond
The brook supports beavers, muskrats, and minks, and the pond contains many different critters including bass and many species of turtles.

Pond alternate view
PennEast of course says that their construction is no big deal and they will “mitigate” any damages. That is PennEast’s favorite word – they get the right to invoke eminent domain and pretty much put the pipeline wherever they please, and our sole consolation is they’ll “mitigate” any issues.

The problem of course is that PennEast will only focus on the area immediately in their construction zone. If material and sediment slips down stream they won’t even look for it. So any mitigation they might do would be to fix the brook – with probably nothing done at all for the pond if they inadvertently damage it’s environment.

Plum Brook
The brook is actually pretty substantial in size, doubly so during these times when there’s a lot of water. You can see from how steep the banks are that it must really flow strongly during heavy rains and has carved a deep niche for itself.

Walking along the brook
We walked along the brook to the west towards the power line easement and proposed route. Along the way we were chatting about rescue dogs and techniques to calm the most skittish ones over time. She’s got several cats and dogs in the house plus is holding a new rescue. They’re mostly smaller breed dogs, she can’t get breeds that need to run a lot outside. The problem there is the ducks and chickens on the property. One week and bigger dogs like ours would make the fowl their dinner.

At the easement
We arrived at the easement and I had a much better view of what it looked like away from the road. As you can see the power company has let it go semi-wild. When PennEast comes through this whole area is going to be stripped bare. And, as elsewhere, it looks like they’ll need to widen the cut.

The Kestrel Nesting Boxes
Our true reason for going to the easement area was that Carla wanted to show me the Kestrel Nesting Boxes. Apparently there is a state program that is run to help preserve Kestrels. They help make these nesting boxes, and they also band birds in the wild for tracking. You can read more about the state’s kestrel program in the area here. As you can see in the document the kestrel is a State Threatened species.

Here’s a kestrel box on a telephone pole right along the pipeline route. I wonder how PennEast is going to “mitigate” damage to these birds given their breeding and living grounds are right on top of the route.

Alternate view of kestrel box
Another view of the box. There are several of these strung along the route.

Krestrel Banding
Carla sent me some snaps of the Kestrel banding process.

A view up the cut
This shot is a closeup of the route going north up to Hewitt Road. You can make out the trailers parked at the top which are in my previous Hewitt Road shots.

You can also see the steep slope it goes up, and which PennEast will be widening. The runoff from the extended cut will be going right down into Carla’s farmland.

The house
A view of their house. The pipeline will be running just a couple of hundred feet, well within the zone where spontaneous ignition of flammables will occur if there is a pipeline accident.

Driveway view
A view from their driveway. You can see the pipeline route cutting right across it, cutting off access to their property during construction.

Final house view
A final view of the house. You can see my wife’s Jeep in the driveway on the right. It looks like some old growth trees may be in jeopardy if they build through here as well.

My two helpers
I’ll close with shots of two of my helpers, Fern and Cinna. Fern is 100% American Foxhound on one side, and it really showed today. The farm had droppings from several different critters – we saw deer and fox, and the fox had her heart racing. It was an effort to keep her under control in the slippery conditions, but we managed. Carla helped out when I was taking pictures, for which we are very grateful.

The purpose of highlighting properties like this is not to make a NIMBY case against the pipeline. Rather, I think this shows how little planning pipeline companies put into laying out these routes. It would be hysterically funny to highlight all of the bad routing decisions made along this path – if it didn’t impact so many lives so severely.

PennEast has shown their incompetence in planning out a pipeline route. Do you have any confidence at all that their skill at actually building it will be any better?

Fern hound says good evening, with a smile.

China says the same.

Easement realities

Richard, Anthony, and Beverly of Delaware Township have a conservation easement on their farm, a very common thing in Hunterdon County. I like to read our town Open Spaces Committee minutes (they’re available online!) to see how the conservation process works, and to see what properties are being considered in my town.

One aspect of the process I forgot about is that you owners can ask for exception areas. These are exceptions to the conservation easements so the families can have some limited development rights. They’re usually very well defined and for a very specific reason.

This trio points out how these exceptions can make a bad situation even worse when the Pipeline company comes knocking on your door.

Four generations of the Danese family have worked the land for nearly a hundred years in Delaware Township, New jersey. Our 67-acre farm (Block 32, Lots 32 & 32.01,Delaware Township) has served as the center of our family’s history, life, and livelihood in this portion of Hunterdon County.

In recognition of the very special place that our farm occupies in our family’s heart, we agreed to preserve our farm in 2009, and accept the restrictions that farmland preservation places on landowners. Our farm was preserved with State, County, Municipal, and Federal funding through the Federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program. We thought that we had preserved our land in perpetuity and that one of the parties to that agreement was the government of the United States of America.

Now we have been contacted by the PennEast Pipeline Company LLC, who tells us that they wish to run a high pressure, 36-inch gas pipeline across our preserved farm. What is worse, we fear that this pipeline will bisect a small area that we had exempted from the preservation as a non-severable exception area, to serve as a building envelope in the event that any of the future generations of our family wished to establish a home on that site. A high-pressure gas pipeline running through the non-severable exception area would make our building envelope useless as an area to build a home, and would destroy the remaining value of our preserved

The Danese family has proved our willingness to abide by the restrictions imposed on our property by the preservation easement in order to preserve our farm for future generations. We are both shocked and saddened that the Federal government, our partner in land preservation, would even think of allowing a high pressure gas pipeline to cross our Federally preserved property and abrogate the agreement that we thought would be in effect in perpetuity.

Their filing is available below:

Richard, Anthony, and Beverly’s filing – FERC Generated PDF

Richard, Anthony, and Beverly’s filing – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

Illegal trespass

I think from context that Mark and Maureen from Frenchtown are related to the college student who’s submission I highlighted in a prior post, possibly parents?

They have a whole lot of issues with PennEast, the proposed route, and the conduct of the PennEast representatives:

Our family Supports under no uncertain terms the NO BUILD option for health, environmental and economic reasons. This proposed pipeline will sever our working family farm in half and will run the full width of our farm property and pass within 200 feet of our home and well.

Our concerns include and are not limited to:

1)Blasting could facilitate contamination of our well water with arsenic, radon and other toxins. This affects not only human drinking water consumption but our farm animal water consumption; in addition, contaminating our bathing water and watering of our organic vegetable and flower gardens.

2)Our home and farm animal barns are within the blast zone.

3)The pipeline path is positioned to follow our farm field drainage route causing re-direction of this natural storm water/snow melt run off, in addition, crossing cultivated prime agricultural soils. These soils are highly erodible and shallow.

4)This pipeline corridor encompasses very steep (greater than 45 %) ledge, crosses over Nishisakawick Creek (bedrock stream bed) and adjacent wetlands to the creek; in addition this pipeline will cross another small tributary to the Nishisakawick Creek that feeds our pond used for swimming, fishing, (large established plant, amphibian and water fowl populations located here)

5)This pipeline will cross historic original route 12 severely compromising existing macadam roadbed.

6)A centuries old, landmark to the farm, oak tree will be taken down to accommodate this pipeline.

7)Within close proximately to the proposed route is a nesting osprey and endangered bats.

8)Our intention was to preserve our farm; this will be impossible if this pipeline goes through. Sale of our farm in the future will be difficult at best and the value of the property will dramatically be compromised.

9)Lastly, we want PennEast and the public to know that our property was surveyed in multiple locations without permission, a state police report was filed, image of a trespasser was captured on trail cam, a metal surveyor box was left on our property (coincidentally under that old oak tree) and survey tape was removed.

In addition to our personal concerns we support all concerns of our neighbors and local New Jersey community officials and neighbors- degradation/devastation to this Delaware River Valley- our water resources and lands, scarring of our treasured open land that locals and visitors enjoy, the conflict of interest in the official studies/surveys to determine the viability of this project, countless stories of trespass, the lack of fair compensation to land owners if this project moves forward to address on-going land use and potential damage to water quality, the unwillingness of PennEast to explore first the option of using existing approved pipeline and power line easement routes, and THE DANGER to humans wild and plant life.

I’ve seen a number of reports of PennEast reps trespassing on people’s lands. They can’t be doing this by accident – there are literally an order of magnitude more “POSTED – NO TRESPASSING” signs in Hunterdon county then there are stop signs.

Their submission is below:

Mark and Maureen’s submission – FERC Generated PDF

Mark and Maureen’s submission – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

Growing up on a family farm

Ian from Frenchtown, NJ is a college student who wrote to the FERC to tell them about his life growing up on a farm in NJ:

Growing up on my family farm has been one of the most defining aspects of my childhood, and it has played a huge hand in making me who I am today. There has been nothing like being able to walk outside and having the world at my fingertips; whether I hunt, farm, or work in my family’s garden, I was privileged to have this experience as a child.

The experience, and life lessons learned from living where I do, is something that I would have loved to give my future children. Sadly there is something that could stop me from gifting them that experience if the Penn East Pipeline is approved. My family’s farm will not be the same. The pipeline will run directly through the center of my family’s property, which shockingly, would be terrible. For starters the pipeline would destroy farmland and take away a source of income for my parents. Also, it would run directly through the woods, destroying cover and shelter for the deer and other wildlife. Last but not least, it has the potential to not only contaminate the water supply to my house, but also for the nearby town of Frenchtown.

To recap and reinforce, the Penn East Pipeline will destroy everything that I love about where I live. The farming will be compromised along with hunting; most importantly, my family and I could be gone as well and potentially countless other families in my area if our water source is destroyed.

If this did not convince you about how special my home is to me, below is my college essay that I wrote a year ago. It pertains to how defining farms are to those families who own them. (After you read my essay you will understand this comment: “In addition, my favorite and my granddad’s favorite hedgerow is in the direct path of this pipeline and will be demolished.”)

He then goes on to share the essay he wrote for a college class the year before. The topic of the essay was to describe a place “where you are perfectly content”, and to further describe “what do you do or experience there, and why is this meaningful?”.

Opening day of hunting season has arrived and our family tradition remains the same; we get up before dawn and at the kitchen table, over a steaming pot of coffee and my mom’s freshly baked pumpkin bread, we reminisce about opening days in the past, and discuss the new day ahead. My family surrounds me at my kitchen table and I am content.

It is finally time to head outside. Frost crunches under my feet as I begin the walk from my house to my favorite stand. I live on a farm and this long walk goes quickly, or so I think, as my footsteps keep pace with my heart’s deafening beat. I know these woods like the back of my hand as I have walked them since I was a child and yet, in the dark, they look so foreign to me.

I finally come to my stand and settle in to wait. Mother nature is not on anyone’s schedule except her own. It is this unpredictability about my time in the woods that is intriguing and it is the only environment in which I am completely content.

The sport of hunting is important to me on so many levels. It is about spending time with family and being alone. It is about being in a place where tradition holds value, where knowledge and skills are taught and passed down through generations carefully, and where, at my age; I can contribute to providing for my family.

When I am outside in the woods or meadow, I see nature in its most natural state. I sit silently and pay attention to observing animals going about their business without any human interference in their natural habitat. Being in this environment is peaceful and there is a quiet that I experience here that is unique to
all other aspects of my life.

I am a student, soccer and baseball player, golfer, SCUBA diver, fisherman, and coach. I volunteer, travel with my family, bowl with my friends every Monday night, and I am an adrenaline junkie who seeks adventure and excitement in everything that I do.

However, I am fortunate that I understand at such a young age that every once in a while I need to take a break from all the excitement and activity, and take time to be still and think about what ever comes to mind. I was lucky to find hunting as my source of meditation. Sitting in the woods twenty feet in the air with nothing but untamed nature surrounding me is the only place in which I am at peace and completely content.

The most recent proposed route shows the pipeline going right through the middle of the farm Ian so clearly loves.

His submission is available here:

Ian’s submission – FERC Generated PDF

Ian’s submission – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

Comments from a member of the West Amwell Pipeline committee

Jennifer Andreoli commented to the FERC as part of West Amwell’s Pipeline Committee, link here:

West Amwell Pipeline Committee Member Coments – FERC Generated PDF

West Amwell Pipeline Committee Member Coments – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

Please read her comments in full, but this passage in particular really struck me:

If you put aside the extremes, the environmentalists and the pipeline companies, you are left with the citizens impacted by the pipeline. As one of these average citizens I can tell you there is an awful lot of conflicting evidence from both sides. Because of this I felt it necessary to talk to other average citizens who have been impacted by similar applications in other towns. Speaking directly to these people is where I found truth on the aftermath of these applications. There are two key points that struck me more than even the evidence on the environmental impact and potential economic boon for the region.

The farmer. I spoke with a woman from PA and found she has had similar problems as our own Mr. Fulper in West Amwell Township with pipelines. The crop yield is lower on and surrounding the lines, the destruction from the installation is not repairable; the disregard by pipeline companies of the land is disheartening. Both of these individuals have had issues with the pipeline companies coming on their property, destroying property, crops and soils, doing what the company claims are routine maintenance without prior notification. In both cases, the pipeline companies after much arguing and threats to contact attorneys would only offer a minimal monetary compensation for the loss. Even going as far as to tell both farmers, go ahead and take us to court, it will cost you more in legal fees. That was a disturbing discovery especially in light of the fact these are private companies being given permission by our federal government to take land from individuals. When questioned, our government repeats these private companies are required to follow certain rules, regulations and standards of practice which it appears no one holds them accountable to.

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