First time in state history taxpayer-preserved lands seized through eminent domain
Pennington, NJ (December 19, 2018) – A bipartisan group of elected officials today joined conservation leaders and citizen landowners whose land will be seized by PennEast pipeline after a court ruling on Friday, in opposition to an infrastructure project that will serve no public benefit. This is the first time in the state’s history that preserved open space has been condemned.
The group, including mayors and representatives from townships along the pipeline’s proposed route, gathered at the home of Loretta Varhley, one of more than 100 homeowners whose land was approved for condemnation by PennEast in a court decision last week, despite the fact that the pipeline does not have all approvals needed for construction.
The speakers strongly denounced the December 14 decision in the U.S. District Court in Trenton, and vowed their continued opposition to the pipeline project that still needs approval from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Delaware River Basin Commission.
“PennEast is seizing homes and public open spaces for a project that is far from approved, not needed, and should never be built,” said Tom Gilbert, campaign director for New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “This project faces tremendous opposition that is determined to protect our land, water and communities by ensuring that they never put a shovel in our ground.”
“Although disappointed, we are even more steadfast in our resolve to stop this project by proving that this it is not needed, has little positive impact on employment, is unconstitutional and is very harmful to our homes, communities and our environment,” said Vincent DiBianca, a Delaware Township homeowner and owner of a small farm and business located on the pipeline’s proposed path.
“We’ve reached this point — a business abusing eminent domain — because FERC falls far short of what we need when it comes to regulating energy projects. FERC fails to register the voices of those impacted by these projects, FERC fails to consider community need, and FERC fails to account for environmental preservation. My SAFER Pipelines Act is one way that we can repair this broken system. I will continue to push for its passage, and I will continue to raise my voice against PennEast, and any other fossil fuel project seeking to take private property for corporate gain,” said U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman.
“The PennEast pipeline threatens waterways, farmland, open space, and private land in one of the most beautiful natural areas of New Jersey, with no clear demonstration of economic need for our state,” said Congressman-elect Tom Malinowski. “I strongly oppose its construction, and as a member of Congress I will support tightening the rules that allow such pipelines to be approved in the first place.”
“While I am highly disappointed in the court’s decision, I call on the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which has the power and obligation to hold PennEast to the strictest environmental standards, to protect our precious natural resources and irreplaceable drinking water from this damaging fossil fuel project,” said New Jersey Sen. Shirley K. Turner. “Our taxpayers have prioritized the preservation of open space and invested billions of dollars to protect our natural resources. Not to mention our homeowners who have worked hard and sacrificed to purchase their homes where they can enjoy our state’s natural assets. Friday’s ruling has placed PennEast’s private gains over the public’s interest.”
PennEast is a proposed pipeline that would transport 1 billion cubic feet/day of fracked gas 118-miles from Pennsylvania into Hunterdon and Mercer counties in New Jersey. PennEast includes member companies New Jersey Resources, South Jersey Industries, and UGI Corp. Experts have found no market need for this new pipeline in order to meet current or projected gas demands in New Jersey.
“There is still hope to stop PennEast. Homeowners: please do not give up. We have a great ally in the NJDEP,” Senator Kip Bateman (R-16) said. “We will continue to fight against any pipeline company that threatens to come here and trample your rights to your land, and the rights we all have to safe and clean drinking water.”
Delaware Township homeowners T.C. and Joe Buchanan added, “We were hopeful that the judge would protect the property rights of individual homeowners, landowners and small business operators rather than side with large private enterprise and their insatiable appetite for outlandish earnings.”
“We were incredibly frustrated with the court’s decision to toss individual property rights aside today, but fortunately there are other critical initiatives simultaneously underway that rightly challenge the PennEast proposal,” said homeowner Jacqueline Evans, who along with DiBianca and the Buchanans are founding members of Homeowners Against Land Taking (HALT-PennEast), a group representing several thousand people whose homes, businesses and property rights are threatened by this unwarranted PennEast initiative.