On Thursday, 50 people gathered at the West Amwell Municipal Building for a presentation by consultant and anti-PennEast pipeline activist Mike Spille.
Spille, a resident of West Amwell and “impacted landowner,” walked the crowd through a slideshow that detailed the potential effects of the pipeline’s route, and explained how attendees could publicly comment before an upcoming deadline — Monday, Sept. 12.
That’s the final day “impacted” citizens can comment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) about the PennEast pipeline.
When asked about the apparent confusion over so many previously announced deadlines, Spille clarified in an interview, “When you comment in this period, it is formally tracked by FERC. If you want to fight the pipeline in court, it has to be on record, and if we want to take them to appeals court, it has to be during the DEIS appeals period, which ends Monday.”
The PennEast pipeline is designed to transport Marcellus Shale natural gas from north of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to Hopewell, New Jersey.
The original route came into West Amwell from the northwest, going to the current Lambertville Compressor Station, on to Queen Road and Route 179, and then roughly followed Mt. Airy-Harbourton Road, until veering southeast toward the northern outskirts of Pennington. The compressor station is the connection point between the Texas Eastern and Algonquin Gas Transmission pipelines.
According to Spille, the route went through the even more ecologically sensitive Sourlands areas. He lauded Hopewell Township Citizens Against the PennEast Pipeline (HTCAPP) for quick organization and credited activist Patty Cronheim for organizing and collaborating with existing opposition groups, and extensive door-to-door canvassing.
Cronheim wouldn’t take the credit though, and later wrote, “It’s highly possible that PennEast was always considering putting the pipeline route where it is now.”
The route was altered on January 15, 2015, with a more westerly approach, which now cuts close to Lambertville, before a sharp veer east, now approaching the south of Pennington. PennEast’s reroute now affords for more co-location along existing JCP&L power lines. Spille described the new direction as “less than a football field away” from the Swan Creek reservoir, the source for much of Lambertville’s city water.
At the meeting, Spille asserted that the reservoir area is about 90% bedrock, and that blasting and horizontal drilling will be needed to position the PennEast pipeline below the Lambertville water supply mains.
Spille said that while Lambertville was one of the first New Jersey municipalities to file a resolution against the pipeline in the Fall of 2014, since the pipeline relocation, the issue “fell through the cracks” of certain local city governments.
“West Amwell felt Lambertville would comment it because it was their water, their issue. Even though the reservoir is in West Amwell, it is NJ DEP property, and it seemed like one assumed the other would take the lead,” he said.
With a short summer window to publicly comment, Sue Begent and others in Lambertville, now with the city’s help, organized an Aug. 1 committee meeting, forming a special Lambertville pipeline committee, which intervened on the FERC docket in opposition to the pipeline.
Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio felt the timing was not so important. “The city did get involved before the deadline, and once we did, we started meeting with Suez and reached out to other influential organizations,” he said.
In August, the new committee, of which Spille and the DelVecchio are members, found that Suez Water, formerly United Water, who operates the reservoir, had only been contacted once by PennEast.
Since then, a representative from Suez Water wrote to the Free Press and noted, “Suez met with representatives of PennEast, identified issues it believes are important regarding its critical infrastructure, and plans to file comments with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement this coming Monday.” Suez Water, however, did not elaborate on what their comment would entail.
Pat Kornick, a representative from PennEast, emphasized that the company has had “hundreds of meetings” with communities and landowners and said, “When you see route changes, it is mostly due to input from involved stakeholders.”
“Teams of safety, environmental, engineering, hydrogeology, geology and other highly skilled professionals who specialize in pipeline design, construction and operation are working to refine the route to ensure it minimizes impact on the community and environment while allowing for safe construction and operation,” Kornick wrote regarding the Swan Creek reservoir.
Spille said that there is “no good route” through the Sourlands, and that if this current course fails, PennEast would be left with few alternatives, which might involve relocating once again, perhaps into more of Pennsylvania, or stopping altogether.
Monday is the deadline for “impacted and abutted” landowners, as well as impacted residents, to submit comments to FERC. The group HALT PennEast has a How to Submit a Comment page.