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At Delaware Valley Regional High School last night, students from the high school’s environmental club were joined by some of the area’s great environmental activist along with many concerned New Jersey and Pennsylvania residents and elected officials to learn about and discuss the proposed PennEast pipeline, slated to run from Pennsylvania through New Jersey terminating in Pennington on Blackwell Road.

In attendance were five speakers: Lynda Farrell the Executive Director of the Pipeline Safety Coalition, Maya van Rossum the Delaware Riverkeeper, Karen Feridum the founder of Berks Gas Truth, Jeff Tittel the Executive Director of the NJ Sierra Club, and Mark Gallagher from Princeton Hydro. Each individual gave a presentation and spoke both from their own professional expertise as well as experience being effected by pipelines. (For resources about fracking and pipelines, click on the links on each highlighted organization.)

The event was quite ironically the same day as a pipeline gas line leak in neighboring Holland Township where a 1/2 mile radius around the leak was evacuated.

“The timing of this is important to us. We got reports that residents were evacuated within a 1/2 mile of the gas line for a few hours. The sound was the sound of a roaring train. These are things we are very concerned about and we are grateful there was no disaster today and incredibly grateful for our first responder volunteers.” said Lorraine Crown, one of the founding members of StopPennEast.org.

Co-Location in Hopewell Township

What many local residents and elected officials are grappling with is the notion of an “alternate route” that PennEast has been in the process of presenting. This alternate route involves, in part, “co-location” — in that it would locate the pipeline along an existing utility route.

Hopewell Township Mayor Harvey Lester wrote to Hon. Cheryl LaFleur, FERC chairperson (the Federal Energy Regulation Commission) explaining a miscommunication in hopes of undoing potential harm of appearing to be in cooperation with PennEast:

“Hopewell Township requests that the minutes be amended to the Bi-Weekly Conference call. Hopewell Township requests that the minutes be amended… Hopewell Township has not suggested a ‘re-route.'”

The letter also spoke of a confidential map provided by PennEast to a local Hopewell Township resident that included details, suggested by the local resident, of a potential co-location route. Hopewell Township insists that it was not involved in presenting or suggesting such a route. For the full text, click the graphic below.

Copy of Hopewell Twp Mayor Lester's Letter to FERC re: Co-Location Communication

FERC Letter Lester CoLocation 2What’s Wrong with Co-Location?

Each presenter last night spoke of the wide-sweeping environmental devastation associated with pipeline construction — large swaths of forests being cleared for massive right-of-ways, streams being dug resulting in damaged beds and lingering sedimentation, large amounts and effects of methane emissions in the environment, the excessive amount of water used in fracking (the method gas extraction).

The original PennEast route appeared to tear through contiguous forested areas, open space and county parks. The current “alternate route,” appears to co-locate the proposed pipeline — to put along an existing utility right-of-way.

That’s got to be better, right?

It might be time to rethink that theory, said Jeff Tittle, Executive Director of NJ Sierra Club:

IMG_8445“I want to point out that the route that they picked is actually more damaging. There are more deep slopes, crossing bigger areas of wetlands and streams . It is actually going through a quarry with blasting…

I’ll just say one thing about Hopewell… It is also going through the Ted Stiles Preserve. Ted was a long-time environmental activist in Hopewell who did so much to protect that town and Sierra Club, FoHVOS, and Delaware Riverkeeper helped to save Baldpate Mountain to make sure there wasn’t an amphitheater and ballfields up there. It is important to the legacy of his memory and all the people who worked save the area.

You have to all stick together because the people who want to ‘put it over there,’ need to know that if you can ‘put it over there’ they can put it in your backyard,” said Tittel at last night’s meeting.

IMG_3973Maya van Rossum also weighed in by offering MercerMe her perspective as the Delaware Riverkeeper:

“Co-Location does not mean the devastation of the PennEast pipeline will be avoided, it simply means that he impacts will be moved to this new location, the footprint and all of its associated harms will be moved to this new location. The increased runoff, loss of forest, destruction of wetlands, pollution and denuding of streams and stream banks, methane emissions, soil compaction with its increased stormwater runoff, invasive species damage will all most transferred from the original route to the new route, whether or not there is colocation.

Co-location does not mean the footprint of the pipeline is avoided, not at all. One need only look at High Point State Park and Delaware State Forest upriver to see the truth of this — co-location of the northeast upgrade project turned comparatively smaller, regrowign rights of way and turned them into massive highways of harm cutting through these natural lands.

The new alternative route will itself hit critically important ecological areas and other communities who won’t want it. Advocating for an alternative route simply pits community against community and makes it an argument about where, not if, and with that kind of approach and thinking the pipeline company wins — so instead we all needed to stay committed together in our opposition to PennEast.”

What to do and how to get involved

PennEast and FERC has already scheduled scoping meetings. The first one is in less than two weeks on January 27 at 6pm at The College of New Jersey. (For the rest of the dates, check out MercerMe’s article “PennEast Plots Its Redirection Amidst Confusion, Scoping Meetings Scheduled.”)

These scoping meetings are an opportunity for residents to speak to FERC about the pipeline project and for land owners to publicly make statements regarding any environmentally sensitive or unique elements to their property, landscape, and wildlife for example wetlands, nesting birds and rare plants, explained Tittel from NJ Sierra Club.

Municipalities are already objecting to the short notice for the scoping meetings, including Hopewell Township, and requesting more time to consider the co-location alternative. Here is a copy of the letter to FERC from Hopewell Township Mayor Lester.

FERC Letter Scoping LesterFERC Letter Scoping Lester 2Environmental activists urge individuals to get involved on all levels — state, local and with friends and neighbors.

“Keep doing what you’ve been doing,” said Lynda Farrell from the Pipeline Safety Coalition. “Keep communicating with the neighboring communities. Pass resolutions in the towns with the alternate route.”

“What they have done is increased the size of the opposition with the alternate route,” added van Rossum. “This is more opportunity to get more people aware and engaged to say ‘no’ and in all the many ways that will allow us to win.”

Environmentalists also warned those in attendance about the tricks that PennEast will attempt in order to gain access to properties and the appearance of community cooperation. Two specific examples are 1) PennEast will come up with an alternative proposal and, if it does not work, they go back to the original. The alternative serves to show FERC that PennEast has considered the factors; and 2) Pipelines have said that the project will happened regardless of cooperation and encourages property owners to sign an easement with a promise of more money now. Speakers stated that the premium payment for early signing is not true and the easement merely serves as proof provided to FERC that the landowners do not oppose the project (and is the same with surveys).

There are plenty of resources online and there are also local groups such as HTCAPP (Hopewell Township Citizens Against PennEast Pipeline) and StopPennEast.org. Their websites offer information and guidance on how to maneuver the process and help stop the pipeline from ever being constructed.

Want more information? Here’s what else we’ve covered:
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Mary Galioto
Mary Galioto is the founder, publisher and editor of MercerMe, a lawyer. Originally from Brooklyn, Mary has progressively moved deeper and deeper into New Jersey, settling in the heart of the state: Mercer County. Formerly the author of an embarrassingly informal blog, Mary is a lifelong writer and asker of questions and was even mentioned, albeit briefly, in the New York Times and Washington Post. In her free time, Mary fills her life with mild germaphobia, excessive self-reflection, enthusiastic television viewing, and misguided adventures in random hobbies.

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