Hunterdon is a hot bed of equestrian activity

Horses are everywhere in Hunterdon county. There are two horse farms within spitting distance of my house. On the way to the FERC scoping meeting last night I was on a road that had “25mph when horses present” signs for miles:

Claire is the owner of a horse farm in Kingwood Township, NJ, and her FERC submission talks about equines as you might expect:

I am the owner of a small farm in Kingwood Township, NJ, where I raise horses, not far from the proposed PennEast Pipeline route.

I have two points to make.

First, I am among many equestrians in Hunterdon County who are here because of the land and miles of trails that meander through historically significant property and valuable, preserved open space. Our land is rural, situated between New York and Philadelphia. It is accessible to the cities where many of us work, yet it is a world apart. We live here so that we can enjoy our way of life, commune with our horses and breathe fresh air.

The community of equestrians in Hunterdon County is well known. We are proud of the numerous Olympians who reside and train here. And, each year thousands of amateurs from all walks of life participate in a wide variety of riding sports in Hunterdon County. Many of these riders live here and others drive great distances for what we have to offer, contributing to the notable equestrian economy. The agricultural focus of Hunterdon County has fostered this business and the community.
To name a few, The Readington Trail Association, Amwell Valley Trail Association, Covered Bridge Trail Association, Pittstown Trail Association and the Alexandria Trail Association, are groups that sponsor events throughout the year providing members and riders from the tri-state area access to the unmatched trails in the region. Riding here, over the same fields that the Revolutionary troops did or looking at undisturbed vistas that have stood for millennia from the back of a horse is unique and rare.

Away from the roads and highways we see the natural world at its best. We see natural ecosystems thriving, pristine streams, old growth trees, and hear the calls of thousands of birds. On one recent occasion, in November of 2014, a large group of riders was brought to a standstill, in total awe, when four magnificent bald eagles took flight as we topped a hill in the Sourland Region. They circled a few times giving us a breathtaking memory to cherish. This is why we ride here.

I ask the FERC to consider, as the agency develops the Environmental Impact Statement, the negative impact Hunterdon County and its equestrian community would experience if the PennEast Pipeline were granted approval. Including,

• The right-of-way it would command through valuable rural scenic property, a source of recreational enjoyment for many citizens. This is a place we can escape urban noise and polluted air to ride our horses freely with our senses open.

• The degradation to increasingly threatened natural habitat that is home to millions of organisms.

• The impossibility of mitigation. No landscape in Hunterdon County or anywhere, once cut through by the PennEast pipeline, can be restored. Mitigation, by “replacing” that habitat in another region will simply leave the original land changed for the worse in perpetuity.

For these reasons, please deny the application by PennEast Pipeline (Docket No. PF15-1-000) with a no action, no build decision.

Claire’s complete FERC submission is available below:
Claire’s submission – FERC Generated PDF

Claire’s submission – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

Our FERC submission

The FERC.gov site has been down for quite awhile today so I haven’t been able to file our submission yet. I’ve linked to it here:

Our submission – original PDF

Apologies for the length, I’m a pretty wordy individual.

Update:

The FERC website stayed up long enough for our submission to take 🙂 Our official comments (same as the document above are available below):

Our FERC comments – FERC Generated PDF

Our FERC comments – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

Trashing the New Jersey Green Acre Program for Profit

Alex and Laura of Pennington go into details of of how their farm was preserved through the New Jersey Green Acres program several years ago:

Let me say categorically and emphatically that we are strongly against this idea. We worked extremely hard over many years with a consortium of nonprofit land preservation organizations to place a conservation easement over our property, which formed a cornerstone of preserved lands that include significant and vital stream corridor and woodland habitats for wildlife. It seems outrageous that the government, acting through New Jersey’s Green-Acre Program, would work so hard and expend so much of the public’s treasure and effort to preserve land, only to allow you to smash a substantial right-of-way, which would involve cutting down large amounts of preserved forests and carving through wetlands, through pristine lands that provide important ecological resources. It perhaps goes without saying that the stream corridors and wetlands and surrounding woodlands provide vital habitat for wildlife, important buffer zones for aquifer recharge and storm water sequestration, and passive recreation opportunities for residents. Our property, which we worked so hard to preserve, provides roughly 4000 feet of such stream corridor preservation, which you propose to undo completely.

Let me review a few of the facts we discussed. We granted a conservation easement over our property in December 2003 to a group of nonprofit land trust oriented organizations, including the Delaware and Raritan Greenway Land Trust, the Borough of Pennington, a local municipality, and the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association. Each of these organizations used an allocation of available funds from the New Jersey Green-Acres program. The transaction was a so-called bargain sale, in which the nonprofit organizations and municipality contributed a portion of the funds for the bargain sale, and we donated a substantial portion of the value. We have lived quietly on the property since this time and worked to continue to preserve and maintain the conservation values of the ecologically sensitive lands and open spaces. The easement in question involves a combination of conservation easement areas(>95%), with and without public access, and a small portion dedicated to our private residential use, that comprises less than 5% of the property.

Left unchecked, this project would powerfully dissuade people granting conservation easements over the lands in the future. In light of the diminished state financial resources that are available for land preservation now and in future, it will dramatically undermine the willingness of individual private landowners to grant conservation  easements over their lands, and set back the cause of preserving land in our region to a measurable degree. These easements provide a vital tool to prevent real estate development from encroaching on the semi-agrarian nature of our region and our quality of life, and create the conditions under which we avoid flooding, create aquifer recharge, and maintain wildlife population and recreational opportunities.

The public access areas dedicated to the public access-conservation use are used by dozens of people a day for passive recreation such as running, hiking, walking and cross-country skiing. The trails are well used. The trails on the property that pivotally connect to interlocking lands owned by the state of New Jersey Department of  Environmental Protection in the so-called Lake Baldwin Wildlife Management Area, and other lands protected from development and under conservation easement that are owned and managed by the D&R Greenway Land Trust together comprise a mosaic of hundreds of acres of preserved property, trails and natural beauty that provide an important buffer to development and a vital ecological function.

Your project would unavoidably cut through these important trail networksand wetlands, cutting across a swath of woods and agricultural lands, and reducing their conservation value. Protecting preserved lands is a critical stewardship function of the local land trusts we worked with and who continue to have responsibility for this vital role. I served astrustee of the D&R Greenway Land Trust for eight years after we granted the conservation easement, because I felt it was important to work hard in this critical stewardship process of defending the easements once they are granted and finding new properties to preserve. My wife Laura, has recently joined the board of the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association in part driven by a similar concern.

We pledge to you that together with as many willing nonprofit land preservation organizations as will support us, and by organizing individual owners of property affected by your plan, we will work hard to defeat your project at every stage. As a society we cannot abide by the wanton destruction of preserved lands.

They bring up a very good point I hadn’t considered before: by breaking conservation easements, PennEast will be providing a powerful disincentive for people to protect lands in the future.

Their entire submission is available below:

Alex and Laura’s submission – FERC Generated PDF

Alex and Laura’s submission – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

NJ Realtors weigh in on the pipeline

Cindy Marsh-Tichy, the President of the NJ Realtors association, wrote a letter on behalf of all 43,000 members of her organization opposing the pipeline:

I am writing to you today on behalf of the approximately 43,000 members of the New Jersey REALTORS® as well as the Hunterdon/Somerset Association of REALTORS® (HSAR) and Mercer County Association of REALTORS® (MCAR) to express our opposition to the proposed PennEast Pipeline Project. We understand the proposed pipeline originates in Luzerne County, PA and enters New Jersey in Holland Township, Hunterdon County before terminating at the Transco pipeline interconnection near Pennington, NJ in Mercer County.

The NJ REALTORS® are the only organization in New Jersey fighting for the rights of property owners. At this point, it appears the construction of the pipeline will infringe on private property rights as it remains unclear what the consequences of denying PennEast Pipeline Company, LLC the right to inspect or drill on your property would be. Along with HSAR and MCAR, the NJ REALTORS® strongly believe that where possible, this pipeline should be placed on existing rights-of-way and easements where other sources of power run through, whether they be other pipelines or power lines for example.

While the NJ REALTORS®, HSAR and MCAR appreciates the need to bring affordable natural gas to consumers in our area, we also have grave concerns regarding the risks that both pipeline construction and the existence a pipeline itself brings to the ability of homeowners to sell their properties in the area. This pipeline could have severe impacts not only on private property rights, but also home and land values. Disclosure issues could also arise as it would be possible for a REALTOR® representing a buyer or seller in a transaction involving a property that that is affected by the proposed project, leaving local REALTORS®, as well as sellers, possibly open to liability.

I feel there are a few points here to consider.

First, PennEast has stated that there are no studies showing that natural gas pipelines affect property values or the ability of people to sell their homes. On the flip side, NJ Realtors saying it is concerned that the pipeline “could have severe impacts not only on private property rights, but also home and land values”. Do you believe the pipeline company or the professional realtors?

The second issue to me is whether co-location makes sense or not. From what I’ve read co-locating pipelines with each other is common and probably the least-impactful way to run a new pipeline. Co-locating other types of easements, however, may not be such a good idea. As it is, the alternate route established by PennEast in January 2015 uses a power line easement for much of the route in NJ. This…isn’t as good as it sounds. They can’t physically build the pipeline under the power lines so they’re going to have to run them next to the lines a certain distance away from them. From what I’ve seen this means the power line easements would have to be widened.  So eye sores cutting across our mountains in Hunterdon County are going to get even wider.  Even worse, a pipeline easement is not the same as a high voltage power line system.  It might be tolerable to have high voltage lines going over your farm, or driveway, or farm land.  It’s something altogether different to bury a pipeline across the entire length.

From what I’ve read PennEast jumped on a few comments like this about co-location and are trying to show the FERC what good guys they are and that they “listened” to the comments.  And now we have a truly terrible route as a result.

More on Baldpate Mountain

C. Sharyn Magee, President of the Washington Crossing Audubon Society, wrote to the FERC backing up the formal submission from her organization:

Because of the extreme ecological sensitivity of Baldpate Mountain, Washington Crossing Audubon Society opposes routing the PennEast pipeline through the JCP&L power line cut that bisects Baldpate
Mountain. An outlier of the Sourland Mountains, Baldpate Mountain contains some of the richest biodiversity in New Jersey. Southern and northern species meet at Baldpate, enriching the flora and fauna. Due to the high quality habitat and the mingling of southern and northern species, Baldpate Mountain has the highest concentration of breeding Neotropical migrants in New Jersey. The thirty-one Neotropical breeding breeding species include thirteen warblers and the Yellow-breasted Chat, two tanagers, three vireos and two Catharus thrushes. Four species are Audubon Watchlist species and twenty-three species are ranked by the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) as birds of conservation concern. An additional 1 39 species use Baldpate Mountain as a migratory stopover in spring and fall or are winter or permanent residents.

Because Baldpate Mountain is long and narrow, it is highly sensitive to disruption from activity on the power line cut that bisects the forest lengthwise. Of special concern is noise from blasting and construction that would penetrate deeply into the forest, interfering with vocal communication between birds at a critical time during the breeding season.

Extending the width of the power line cut would destroy or degrade adjacent breeding habitat along the length of the mountain. Because Baldpate breeding territories are saturated, these birds cannot move further back into the interior forest if disturbed. There is no place for the displaced birds to go. Blue- winged and Chestnut-sided Warblers, species of conservation concern that breed at the forest-power line ecotone, would be especially affected.

The blasting necessary to penetrate the extremely hard diabase substrate has the potential to affect the springs that feed the creeks that originate on Baldpate, disrupting their flow and the animals that depend on them, including the breeding Louisiana Waterthrush, a species of conservation concern.

Given the ecological sensitivity cf Baldpate Mountain, the power line cut should have never been placed there. A through biological inventory and environmental impact statement would dearly show why. The damage to Baldpate should not be compounded by allowing PennEast access for their pipeline.

To get an idea of what’s being described, here’s a google Earth terrain view of the pipeline route going through Baldpate Mountain:

As you can see the pipeline route is cutting right through the preserve along the power line easement – an easement that will also probably have to be widened. You can also see the how the route doesn’t bother to avoid steep slopes but instead just barrels along in a straight line up and down the mountain.

Due to the composition of the bedrock that makes up the Sourland mountains, including Baldpate, PennEast building crews would likely have to blast along much of the route, particularly on the slopes. This will compound the damage significantly both in terms of immediate ecological damage and long term issues such a worsening runoff from rain storms.

A mile or two away from Baldpate we also have the Swan Creek Reservoir, which serves as a primary source of drinking water for Lambertville, NJ. As with Baldpate, there are very steep slopes in this area that would likely require blasting. Take a look at where the pipeline route is in relation to the reservoir:

In fact, Google Earth shows that the pipeline study corridor is less than 200 feet from the reservoir:

Can you imagine blasting into bedrock and then custom welding a 3′ wide high pressure gas pipeline a couple of hundred feet from a drinking water reservoir?

C. Sharyn Magee – FERC Generated PDF

C. Sharyn Magee – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

The Rolling Hills Farm

Like so many people, Jane and Jason of the Rolling Hills Farm in Lambertville NJ had a dream. They moved from NYC to Hunterdon County in search of a rural life. Now eminent domain is being threatened to run a 3 foot wide high pressure pipeline through their organic farm.

2 years ago, my husband and I left Manhattan to start an organic farm in Hunterdon county. We have worked hard, are conscious stewards of the land, and grow clean food for our community in the midst of a country-wide epidemic of health problems due to lack of healthy product in America. Our farm happens to have the electrical easement on it that PennEast proposes to use. It goes straight through the farm, 10 feet from our historic home; an old area orphanage built in 1840, and directly through a registered historic Lenape settlement in the woods below our fields.

As you can imagine, the land would be decimated by the 100ft wide cuts- and we would no longer be able to farm organically. I could go on, but it boils down to the fact that we as family fundamentally oppose the practice of fracking and this pipeline proposal. Instead, perhaps FERC could support research and development into sustainable energy- to put us back on the map with countries like Germany, who have initiatives that bring them into the future, and not push us farther back by poisoning the land and putting citizen’s health on the line in order to take part in the Fracking bubble?

It is the fact that a giant conglomerate company could possibly undermine the efforts of individual citizens to make our country a better and healthier place, that disappoints me so greatly.
This farm is our American dream. Please give me faith that the government will support us, and it’s citizens, and refuse to let this tragic pipeline befall our families, communities, and ecology when it comes time for you to review the Penn East proposal.

I am counting on you.

You can see their web site here:

Rolling Hills Farm web site

Their FERC Submission is below:

Jane and Jason – FERC Generated PDF

Jane and Jason – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site