Submitted by Hopewell Township Citizens Against the PennEast Pipeline (HTCAPP):
On Monday, April 13th, PennEast hosted two “informational” meetings exclusively for landowners along the proposed pipeline route. Attendees of this first of three scheduled luncheons and dinners anticipated a forum that would address their inquiries. Instead citizens were treated to generalizations of the PennEast route and vague assurances that the pipeline company will employ “industry best practices.”
PennEast’s invitation had been accompanied by a letter stating that they “pledged to work with landowners, regulatory agencies and others to define the best route.” Landowners went to the event prepared with detailed questions regarding the impacts of the proposed pipeline on their homes and communities. PennEast’s responses revealed an astonishing dearth of knowledge regarding logistics, environmental and geological specificity of the area.
Jeff Tittel, Director of NJ Sierra Club, was one of many representatives who objected to the closed status of the meetings. “What is PennEast hiding with closed door meetings? The truth! They do not want property owners to know they have rights and can stop this destructive pipeline.”
Concerned citizens who expressed their dismay peacefully in front of the meeting venue were met by New Jersey State Police. While no demonstrators attended the evening meeting, state troopers were asked to issue warnings inside the venue to citizens who became frustrated with the forum.
Vaughana Feary, the eldest of three generations of a family at the meeting, expressed great concern. She was cautioned by the State Police and threatened with eviction from the site.
“You’re going to ruin a big part of my life here…You invite me here and I can’t even raise my voice to defend my life and my family’s lives,” Feary said.
PennEast representatives seemed ill prepared. Landowners were shuffled from one representative to the next when inquiries couldn’t be answered. Refusal of PennEast to discuss topics such as eminent domain established a dictatorial tone to the entire affair. Residents who asked pointed questions were quickly silenced. The presentation was then sped up by PennEast to avoid issues they were clearly not comfortable discussing.
Some residents fought back tears as they pleaded with PennEast reps to abandon their plans and leave farms and homes intact. Feary’s granddaughter Alexandra, a high school student, fought for her family’s farm with an impassioned plea to the company:
“I don’t give a damn about the money. This is my family…you’re coming in here with construction, you’re coming in here with all these horrible things, and you’re putting my family in danger. And you’re expecting me to be OK with that because of money?”
Many objected to the closed-door sessions as being against the spirit of transparency. Residents of communities impacted by the route felt the invitation-only meetings are designed to keep landowners isolated from organizations and government representatives that could help them better understand the approval process and how to protect their rights.
Angele, of the Feary family’s middle generation, brought up a recent leak of the 42” Millennium pipeline and cited issues with the steel being used by PennEast: “You are classifying my family and my kids as second class citizens because you will be too cheap to put in the maximum thickness of pipe because your companies have done a cost benefit analysis that decides it is better to pay off our families if we are killed.”
Vince Di Bianca informed PennEast that there are “irreconcilable differences” between the Hunterdon County municipalities along the route and PennEast, LLC. He stated “This community is resolute” in its opposition. He asked PennEast representatives if they would honestly bring this information back to their management. Alissa Harris of PennEast replied that they “give regular status reports.”
Mike Spille, landowner along the route in West Amwell and author of the blog thecostofthepipeline.com asked questions about eminent domain. “Why don’t we address the 800 pound gorilla in the room: eminent domain.” PennEast representatives looked visibly nonplussed by the question. Mike from PennEast responded that “We feel that this is not the proper time in the process to discuss eminent domain.”
Mr. Spille also had trouble getting answers to a question about routing near his property.
One man raised the issue of woodland assessment. In New Jersey, land some owners of large parcels of woodland may be eligible for reduced taxes if the property is used exclusively for the production and sale of forestry products. “The difference to me is an $8,000 tax bill instead of $30,000 one.” PennEast representatives were unaware of the classification. Ms. Harris chimed in, “New Jersey is new to us. We’re still learning and we don’ t know about all of these special programs that are unique to the state.”
Organizations appalled at notion of closed-hearings
Organizations throughout the community were outraged at the notion of hearings that were not open to the public and isolate landowners from people who can help them understand the issues and protect their rights.
Sam Koplinka-Loehr, Shale Gas Organizer with the Clean Air Council was one of many representatives who objected to the closed status of the meetings. “These ‘open houses’ are a sham. By having closed-door meetings with only some landowners, PennEast and UGI are trying to intimidate and divide the community. Luckily, we will not be intimidated. One hundred percent of NJ’s impacted communities have joined together and passed resolutions opposing the pipeline, and 68% of all NJ landowners have denied survey permission. This is almost unheard of as almost all other pipeline projects at this point have survey permission for 90%+ of the route.”
Laura Pritchard of Concerned Citizens of Williams Township issued a statement saying “The more PennEast speaks, the less confidence citizens have that their concerns are being taken seriously. This is a ‘learning process’? How much of the rest of this process are they learning as they go? With research done in the short amount of time since PennEast pre-filed with FERC, concerned citizens seem to be more knowledgeable than people working on the project.”
Patty Cronheim, representing Hopewell Citizens Against the PennEast Pipeline, said “It’s unconscionable that PennEast separates newly impacted landowners from their communities by holding closed door sessions. Being threatened with eminent domain can be an overwhelming experience and our neighbors need to know that we support them and stand in solidarity with them against PennEast. We’re here to provide information and help them learn about their rights and how to fight this destructive project. We say to all newly impacted landowners – YOU ARE NOT ALONE.”
What you can do
On April 21st, PennEast is holding in Hopewell its invitation only, closed landowner lunch and dinner meetings. HTCAPP will be protesting these closed meetings because they separate impacted people from their supportive community and are manipulative and divisive. Please contact us if you would like to join the protest.
If you are invited to one of these meetings and would like more information about your rights, the FERC process, or important questions to ask PennEast, please contact us either through this website, http://htcapp.org, or by calling the PIPELINE HOTLINE – 609-350-2220
Submitted by Hopewell Township Citizens Against the PennEast Pipeline (HTCAPP)