With state-level news of clean energy initiatives making headlines, a project in proximity to Montgomery and Rocky Hill raised the stakes in May, as residents and local political leaders are speaking up for environmental and quality of life concerns.
Williams Transco Gas, which completed the build of its 6.36-mile, 42-inch wide Skillman Loop pipeline in Montgomery Township in 2017, is applying for a heavy-duty compressor station to be built in neighboring Franklin Township near residences, as part of its NorthEast Supply Enhancement project (NESE) to deliver more natural gas, faster, to Long Island and New York City consumers.
Public comments on the project and its impacts began last month and will be accepted in writing until early September.
The $650 million pipeline running through the Sourlands and Skillman, bordering Princeton and Montgomery, was part of the Leidy Southeast Expansion project and locally, just a precursor to the compressor station plan which is now being evaluated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
In late April and early May FERC officials were flown in from Minnesota and other parts of the country to host four public hearing sessions; one in Brooklyn, New York, two in New Jersey (Franklin and Old Bridge) plus another in Quarryville, Pennsylvania, the day after Franklin Township’s hearing, held
Wednesday, May 2 at the DeMott Lane municipal complex.
There was no public forum set up with a microphone, presentations, and following public comments. Instead residents here and scores of union workers were assembled by FERC representatives, at conference tables in rooms with maps and diagrams of the proposed project, and offered a chance to comment one-by-one in small settings. Their comments were recorded by FERC and others were encouraged to submit comments in writing.
Montgomery Township Administrator Donato Nieman, who attended the May 2 event with Montgomery Mayor Mark Conforti, said that the township had stated its opposi-
tion with a Township Committee resolution approved last year declaring Montgomery’s “intervenor” status for the proposal,
another resolution specific to the FERC hearing and process ahead, and through written statements prepared by attorneys.
Meanwhile protest organizers from Franklin Township had pre-written letters raising environmental and geographical concerns with the proposed compressor station, which would be behind the Buddhist temple on Route 27 and to the immediate east of the Trap Rock Quarry in between Kings-
ton, a short distance from Rocky Hill, and the Franklin Township/South Brunswick border of Route 27.
Attendees of the May 2 rally were simply asked to sign with
their name and address and the letters were to be mass-mailed to FERC.
Mayor Conforti was recognized by the rally’s organizers
and he stood beside Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert and Somer-
set County Freeholder (and former Montgomery mayor) Mark
Caliguire as they addressed the crowd at the Franklin Township municipal complex.
Lempert said it was ironic that the construction and electrical workers’ unions were standing across the roadway from the
gathering of 75 area residents, rather than beside them and
supporting the same overarching environmental causes as citizens of New Jersey and the U.S.
“As neighbors, Princeton is also deeply concerned about this project and the dangers it poses to the environment and health. I want to address our friends from organized labor here, across the parking lot, and say it makes me sad we are divided here. I feel we should be on the same side of this issue as everybody deserves to have jobs that are safe, clean, and ones where we can be proud to be working together towards a cleaner future. That’s why we are gathered today as climate change is real and we are dealing with it in townships — our towns’ budgets keep rising with expenses from storms, flooding, and more crises. I fully support Gov. Murphy in the move for New Jersey to pursue 100 percent clean energy and it needs to start with better jobs and infrastructure for our future,” she said.
Princeton University student Amanda Eisenhour has been on weekly conference calls and in meetings with Franklin advocates opposing Compressor Station 206. She’s part of Princeton’s Student Climate Initiative and a coalition of other students fighting the project, as she has spread awareness of the Station 206 plan on the downtown campus and among classmates.
At the May 2 rally, she relayed scientific issues that came up after scrutiny of the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that is submitted for review by FERC.
“Princeton students and students everywhere are held to high standards of integrity in our research. We would not dream of handing in paper or materi-
als without citing exclusively peer-reviewed, reputable sources or rely on incomplete data sets to prove experimental hypotheses. Even a cursory look at the DEIS prepared by so-called ‘experts’ whose results have real conse-
quences for health and safety of local residents will show that this research is incomplete. Their DEIS used outdated standards, and it relies on estimates and modeling of emissions provided by the company, Williams Transco themselves, instead of independent and accurate measurements from comparable facilities. And this DEIS only addressed emissions within a
quarter-mile of proposed (compressor) facilities despite multiple peer-reviewed studies that show emissions plumes impact a radius of up to five miles from the source,” she explained.
The five-mile distance would mean impacts pushed from Kingston,
throughout Rocky Hill and into southern Montgomery Township. Other opponents of the project said getting eastern America “off the fracked gas” which Williams Transco harvests from the Marcellus Shale formation in
Pennsylvania comes hand-in-hand with protecting sensitive marine life in the Raritan River Bay and supporting clean water and air throughout New Jersey.
They supported the 100 percent Clean Energy bill that Governor Phil Murphy signed into law in late May and urge his administration to contest the project’s negative impact to water quality (which requires a state certificate).
Residents noted that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had directed the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to withhold a crucial water quality permit for the Williams Transco expan-
sion that would have carried the natural gas from the same region
into Massachusetts and northern New England.
That “block” by New York state drew a loud ovation from the assembled crowd in Franklin on May 2.
After the recent public hearings in three states, FERC received another 52 files for the project and DEIS from applicant Williams Transco. The proponents’ files submitted to FERC on May 11 contain 3,605 pages, including 2,526 pages of environmental reports and 1,079 pages of agency correspondence.
Jeff Tittle, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, spoke on May 2 and said
he was representing three million Sierra Club members in the United States and Canada. He said environmentalists today recognize the FERC “meet-
ing” on May 2 as an aberration compared to traditional hearings, but part of the control in place is not letting the masses learn more about the energy infrastructure “because they don’t want everyone to hear reasons against these projects.”
He says the goal of organizing is taking away FERC’s rubber-stamp routine as this area should remain as the "Crossroads of the American Revolution" and not become the “Crossroads of the Pipelines.”
“What is happening here is ground zero, the battleground of this country and this planet, between the fossil foolishness of the past and the clean energy future. They want to keep us ad-dicted to fossil fuels so they canblock renewable energy and therevolution of green energy that iscoming...this is all about makingsure we keep mining and drillingand doing the same old instead of building offshore wind turbines or renewable energies from solar.
"We have battled pipelines from one part of the country to another and we know how to stop them — we stopped the Constitution Pipeline, the Islands East, the Northern Direct — and we stopped them because of the region bereft of clean water. We are here to say no — we’re not putting a pipeline through the Raritan Bay so New York and Long Island gets the gas and you residents (Central New Jersey) get the pipe. We are here to say we want clean energy and we want to reform FERC. We are here to lock NESE out and tell them stay the FERC out of our towns and out of our state,” Tittle said, leading a chant.
Freeholder Caliguire said the location proposed is “just not the right place for a compressor station.”
“As an elected official I try toput myself in the place of people coming up before the Board of Freeholders," Caliguire said. "Imagine living here in our beautiful neighborhoods and raising your children here, and suddenly somebody says‘ we will put a large compressorstation with two industrial stacks up, and it will emit potential toxins into the air’ — that has really struck me. The Somerset County Freeholders are registered intervenors with FERC, and we support residents in the fight against this compressorstation.” ■