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Property owners affected by the proposed PennEast pipeline project gathered at the Hopewell Township Municipal Building last night to hear from experts assembled by the area’s conservation and environmental advocacy community.

Hosted by HTCAPP, Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space, the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed, Sourland Conservancy, Kingwood Citizens Against the Pipeline, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Washington Crossing Audubon Society, and Hopewell Township and Kingwood Township. The seminar included speakers from the recently formed citizen’s group HALT PennEast (“Home Owners Against Land Takings”), as well as New York attorney Anne Marie Garti.

After providing an overview of the FERC process, Ms. Garti outlined the strategies being used to challenge the Constitution pipeline project in her home state of New York, focusing on the collateral approvals that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires, including historic, clean water and wetlands. She also provided property owners and the assembled community groups with suggestions for effective comment delivery during what she called the most critcal phase of the administrative process, the DEIS (“Draft Environmental Impact Statement”) period, stressing the importance of providing a variety of feedback and information for FERC to consider, as compared to simple volume of form-based or repeat comments.

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Vincent DiBianca of HALT PennEast talking to property owners.

Also on hand were representatives from the newly-formed HALT PennEast property owners group, including Vincent DiBianca, a former local Hopewell resident.  DiBianca explained that their goal is to stress that PennEast has “insufficient public good to trump property rights.” The group recently announced their hiring of Washington DC law firm Wiley Rein to take on the PennEast project.

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During the question and answer period, some local property owners expressed concern about whether it was futile to challenge what some say is an inevitable FERC “rubber stamp” approval. But the mood quickly turned to optimism based on the support of local legislators and the prospect of the State level (NJDEP and DRBC) approvals needed.  Those, the speakers suggested, are the real opportunities for a successful challenge and, even with FERC approval of the project, PennEast will be hard-pressed to pass the historic, water, wetlands and other environmental hurdles handled by other agencies.

Patricia Sziber, Executive Director of Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space, one of the event’s co-hosts summed up the sentiment in the room:  “We are in this to the finish.”

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