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THE TOP STORIES OF 2015: Gas pipeline runs into problems

By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
MONTGOMERY — Having run into a snag in its efforts to complete the last section of a new natural gas pipeline in the township, Williams-Transco is asking the state Department of Environmental Protection for permission to switch from underground drilling to an open trench.
Williams-Transco is installing a 42-inch natural gas pipeline, replacing the existing 36-inch pipeline that company officials said is inadequate to meet demand. The section of new pipeline that is being installed in Montgomery is part of a 30-mile pipeline loop that passes through Mercer, Somerset and Hunterdon counties.
Meanwhile, the request to switch techniques comes after Williams-Transco’s repeated attempts to tunnel through an area off Cherry Hill and Cherry Valley roads. The company had been successful in drilling underground to install the pipeline, but hit some dense rock in that area and could not get through.
Last month, the company tried to drill through the rock by using a hydraulic ram. Without township officials’ permission, the work continued around the clock on Dec. 12. Several residents called the police and township officials to complain. The work stopped after township officials contacted Williams-Transco corporate headquarters in Texas.
The company agreed to work during normal business hours — from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Although work is not permitted on Sunday, an exception was made for the company to drill from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
But now, faced with the inability to drill through rock and having damaged several expensive drill bits, Williams-Transco wants permission from the state Department of Environmental Protection to open a trench to install the last section of pipeline.
The area in question contains “exceptional wetlands,” and that is why permission is needed from the Department of Environmental Protection, according to Township Administrator Donato Nieman. Digging a trench to install the pipeline would damage the environment, and permission to dig a trench depends on the company’s ability to mitigate it to the satisfaction of Montgomery Township and the state agency, Mr. Nieman said.
The Department of Environmental Protection has not acted on the request to open a trench, Mr. Nieman said. In the meantime, Municipal Attorney Kristina Hadinger has been in contact with Williams-Transco’s attorneys regarding the permit application and its failure to observe work hours. 

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