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.

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

An individual’s traumatizing experiences with natural gas

Kim from West Amwell, NJ writes to the FERC about her bad luck with natural gas and the trauma it’s caused to her family:

When I was young, my Uncle Ken Kenning, Aunt Eileen, Aunt Anna, and cousins Billy and Chrissy lived in Mercerville, NJ; their house was right next to a church. Because their driveway was fairly small, we always parked in the church parking lot when we visited.

On April 22, 1971, that church exploded in a violent gas explosion that left nothing but part of the entranceway remaining. I was only six at the time, but I still remember my mother telling me that Uncle Ken’s house had exploded and that the ceiling had fallen in on my Aunt Anna, and that she had been taken to the hospital. (See Figures 1-4 below for the Evening Times article covering the explosion.) At least five people were injured, and many homes in the area damaged, with windows being shattered miles from the site. If the explosion had happened two and a half hours later, the church would have been filled with children. In Figure 3, the lower right picture shows the view of the rubble from my cousin Chrissy’s bedroom.

Here’s one of the pictures she included:

That wasn’t her only story to share about natural gas disasters though:

This incident was very scary for me, a six year old. I didn’t understand how a building could just blow up like that, and I wondered if it would happen to our house. But I grew up and our house didn’t explode. (We didn’t have gas).

Two things happened when I was in my early twenties. First, my 80 cubic foot scuba tank became a projectile one hot summer night in my bedroom, bouncing off all the walls, smashing everything in its path. It was the loudest sound I had ever heard, and not realizing what was happening, I was convinced that an airplane was about to crash through the window. I personally learned that night how powerful gas under pressure can be.

The second thing that happened involved my Uncle Mike La Franco (my godfather), who lived in an apartment building in East Windsor, NJ. My father’s best friend, Uncle Mike was our closest and favorite, fun-loving uncle. One morning, he woke up and smelled gas. He called the appropriate number he had been given, but reached an answering machine. He waited a while and called again. Again he got the machine. He decided to get dressed and leave. He was in the bathroom when the building exploded. He managed to get outside, but he was burning, with even his hair on fire. My mother and I got the call from the hospital. He had burns that started on his head and went down his back, with more minor burns in other areas.

At one point while in the hospital, Uncle Mike asked me to drive over to his complex and try to find his car keys in his apartment. I drove over, not sure what to expect, but what I found was nothing. Not only was his apartment gone, the entire building was gone. I wandered around the grounds, and found a couple of wall decorations that had been in my uncle’s apartment, but they were melted and deformed. When I asked him if he wanted me to search further, he said no. He didn’t want anything to remind him of what had happened.

As you might guess, of course this means that her house is on one of the proposed Penn East routes:

When I got married a few years later, I told my husband that I would never want a gas stove or gas heater or gas anything, and thankfully when we moved into our current house (my childhood home), there was still no gas service on our road.

And then, in August 2014, we received a letter from PennEast, saying that our property would directly abut the pipeline route. And I knew that if this project was built, I would constantly have to live with the threat of our family being killed in a gas explosion. This fear was compounded when my cousin – the one who lived next to the church and who now lives in West Amwell, NJ – also received a letter from PennEast, saying that the line would go right through her property.

While I understand Kim’s issues with natural gas I don’t quite share the same level of fear of it that she does. But as I’ve said in earlier posts, risks are not absolutes but must be considered as a continuum. And it’s not just about likelihood of disaster but the outcome in the unlikely event that the worst does happen. I could live with natural gas in my house (in fact I have a 500 pound propane tank for home heating). But that’s not the same as a billion cubic feet of natural gas going by your house every day, and having it forced on you by eminent domain.

Read Kim’s entire submission below:

Kim’s submission to FERC

Kim’s submission to FERC Alternate site

Realtors say the pipeline will impact your land’s valuation

Betty in Stockton tells the FERC:

We have lived on this property about 41 years. We are going to be 75 this year. In June we started searching the possibility of selling because it is too difficult to do the needed work here now. As soon as the pipeline was made public for our area, realtors informed us the value of our property would go down considerably. This was our investment for our future. Without it, our lives will be very negatively impacted. Now that is on hold because people do not want to live near the pipeline. We do not either, but we would not be able to afford to move without adequate income from the property sale.

Most of the 17 acres of our property are wooded. Mostly mature hardwood trees. We have been in farmland assessment for woodlot management for many years. We followed the rules to manage the trees cut, etc. Our understanding is PennEast can come in and cut whatever they want. wherever they want. How is that right when we have worked to protect the forest and followed the rules? This property qualifies as farmland because of the trees and the mandates needed to make that possible. The trees are a valuable asset for our environment. They can not be replaced as mature trees.

From what I can tell the pipeline is running through land like this strictly because of the change in January to co-locate along the high voltage powerline easement. PennEast is just blindly following that easement and ignoring the fact that a powerline easement and a pipeline easement are two very, very different beasts. It seems terrible that people who have lived on their land for 41 years are having their lives turned upside down because PennEast can’t do their homework and keep changing their story on the pipeline details.

West Amwell Township Planning Board conveys their “strident opposition” to the pipeline

It’s funny that you can’t open a newspaper or watch the TV news without hearing another story of corrupt politicians, inept government, or just plain all around incompetence in the public sector. Yet how often do you hear a story about a government body doing the right thing?

Robert E. Tomenchok Jr, chairman of the West Amwell Township Planning Board, shows us government done right:

The West Amwell Township Planning Board wishes to convey our strident opposition to the proposed PennEast pipeline.

While we favor strongly the development of domestic energy resources, and support strenuously the free enterprise system, there are numerous aspects about this project with which we object.
Specifically:

1) The proposed route appears to have been chosen with little or no regard to the proximity of schools, emergency facilities, housing, wetlands, woodlands, historic structures/features, et cetera. The Planning Board strives to ensure that we leave West Amwell in better condition than we found it, and this project fails this simple test.

2) In most every aspect of governance home rule continues to be eroded, being slowly and systematically replaced by centralized control. The fact that we have so little control over such important decisions is aggravating, demoralizing, and causes many intelligent, caring citizens to eschew public service. Were it not for the fact that the pipeline crosses the Delaware River, it would have appropriate local input and control.

3) The threat of the exercise of Eminent Domain to secure land for a for-profit enterprise flies in the face of the free enterprise system. While we recognize that there exists a need for government to intervene in rare cases where intransigence stymies the public good, we feel that this project does not rise to that level.

4) The virginal nature of this pipeline should dictate even greater scrutiny. History shows that once a route has been established additional pipelines can and will follow. West Amwell is a rural community of mostly small farms with two large and two small housing developments. The proposed route has drawn objection across the demographic spectrum – from full time farmers to metropolitan commuters who come home to sleep in their tract homes.

Read the full submission below:

West Amwell Township Planning Board – FERC Generated PDF

West Amwell Township Planning Board – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

Energy executive says “Not in my backyard!”

Mary Jean of Upper Black Eddy, PA has a real eye-opener of a comment to the FERC:

I already have the Transco Pipeline next to my back yard, within 1000 feet of my home, and I don’t want any other pipelines near my home. I certainly don’t want the Penn East pipeline to be situated within 50 foot of my residence. It is interesting to me that Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobil, a proponent of the natural gas rush, would agree with me. Although he is a proponent of the natural gas industry, he’s not too keen on having natural gas facilities, even a benign fresh water tower, near his home. He joined a lawsuit stating that such a tower would ruin the aesthetics and hurt his property value. I quote: “The construction of the water tower will create a constant and unbearable nuisance on those who live next to it.” The lawsuit goes into great detail to lay out the problems experienced by those who are subjected to fracking operations. To be clear, he thinks that it is fine for industrial gas facilities to be built near other people’s homes – he just doesn’t want one near his home. For the record, after receiving much negative publicity for hypocrisy, Mr. Tillerson dropped out of the lawsuit – but his friends and neighbors will carry the lawsuit forward. My family and I do not want additional pipelines and the processing facilities that pipeline necessitate – like compressor stations, metering stations, and glycol dehydration plants like the problematic Chapin station just across the border in Wyoming County.

Her full comments are here:

Mary’s comments – FERC Generated PDF

Mary’s comments – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site