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Gas Pipeline Proposals in South Jersey Face Stiff Opposition, Legal Setbacks

Posted November 11, 2016

More than 1,100 letters sent to NJDEP in final week before deadline; Legal hurdles mounting for proposed pipelines in Garden State

Stockton, NJ (November 10, 2016) — ReThink Energy NJ, a campaign dedicated to reducing fossil fuel use and bringing clean, renewable energy to New Jersey, today pointed to mounting problems for several gas pipeline proposals in southern New Jersey. More than 1,100 opposition letters alone were submitted by the public to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) in the last six days of the final comment period for the proposed Garden State Expansion (GSE) compressor station and Southern Reliability Link (SRL) pipeline project.

Tom Gilbert, campaign director for ReThink Energy NJ and New Jersey Conservation Foundation, believes the large number of public comments received by the NJDEP reflects widespread opposition to new pipeline projects.

“The more people hear about these proposed pipelines and how they threaten our environment and communities, the stronger their concerns are,” Gilbert said. “Many realize that only private interests would profit from these projects, and that the pipelines are not needed and are not in the public interest.”

The NJDEP requested public comments as it considers a Freshwater Wetlands Permit application from the Williams Companies for its Transco GSE project. The public expressed grave concerns about impacts on waterways, air quality and the safety of nearby communities, and demanded the NJDEP deny the application. Many asked that the GSE and SRL projects be evaluated as a single project for their necessity and environmental impacts, rather than separately, because each depends completely on the other.

“The NJDEP has significant authority over these types of projects that threaten our protected waterways, and it is obligated to uphold the laws and regulations that protect them,” Gilbert continued. “GSE and SRL are not in compliance with these laws; NJDEP should reject them, plain and simple.”

Pipeline Approval Deemed Illegal

The outpouring of opposition to GSE and SRL comes days after the New Jersey Appellate Court ruled that the Executive Director of the Pinelands Commission illegally approved the proposed South Jersey Gas (SJG) pipeline, and remanded the issue back to the full Pinelands Commission and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.

“The legal precedent set by this court decision puts the SJG project at risk and will also pose additional regulatory hurdles for the SRL pipeline that is planned to cut through the protected Pinelands,” said Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director, Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

Severe and Cumulative Environmental Impacts

“These projects would threaten New Jerseyans’ drinking water, from the Highlands to the Pinelands. We are urging NJDEP to exercise its authority under the Clean Water Act and reject these projects because they fail to consider alternatives sites that would avoid regulated wetlands. Beyond this, they are not needed, and they are not in the public interest,” said Patty Cronheim, outreach coordinator, ReThink Energy NJ.

“NJDEP must consider the true cumulative impacts of the GSE project with New Jersey Natural Gas’ proposed SRL pipeline, because the projects are entirely dependent upon each other to exist and do not meet the NJDEP standard for an ‘independent utility,’ ” Cronheim wrote to NJDEP.

In a 20-page letter to NJDEP, Mark Gallagher, vice president of engineering firm Princeton Hydro, expressed serious concerns about GSE and SRL on behalf of the Township of Chesterfield. He asked NJDEP to deny the permit, stating the projects “would result in excessive encroachment to wetlands.”

Gallagher explained that the application “completely fails to satisfy the requirements of an alternatives analysis required by the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act, which seeks to avoid and minimize wetland impacts. Contrary to this, Williams-Transco selected the site with the greatest wetland impact relative to the other sites it considered. The applications warrant no further consideration by NJDEP until the combined impacts of both projects can be appropriately identified, as required by the CWA. Otherwise, NJDEP has ample grounds to deny both wetland permits.”

Paul Rubin, president, HydroQuest, provided a technical analysis of the risks posed by GSE and SRL, detailing the many failures that can occur with the pipeline installation technique horizontal directional drilling (HDD), especially in the sandy soils of the Pinelands. Rubin, who is a professional hydrologist, concluded that based on these uncontrollable geological challenges the NJDEP should insist that the companies complete the required stability and risk analyses, or they must assume that HDD failures will irreparably impact the surrounding landscape.

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