MONTGOMERY: Residents, environmentalists come out in force against pipeline company application


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By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
MONTGOMERY — Residents and environmentalists spoke loud and clear — they do not approve of Williams-Transco’s application for permission to dig a trench to install 1,200 feet of pipeline across streams and fields, north of Cherry Valley Road.
More than a dozen speakers urged the state Department of Environmental Protection to deny Williams-Transco’s application at a special public hearing Feb. 11. The company hit rock as it attempted to tunnel underground to install the natural gas pipeline.
The DEP will announce its decision on March 16. Williams-Transco has applied to the DEP for a new flood hazard area individual permit and for a major modification to its existing freshwater wetlands individual permit.
Williams-Transco completed the 30-mile loop, known as the Leidy Southeast Expansion Project-Skillman Loop, in December. The company bypassed the 1,200-foot segment, but claims it needs to install the remainder of the Skillman Loop through the fields off Cherry Valley Road, near Cherry Hill Road.
Christopher R. Brown, the company’s director of engineering, told the attendees that the company tried to dig underground, but hit rock that made it impossible to do so. Two attempts to tunnel through the rock failed, damaging the drill bits.
Mr. Brown explained that the company needs to install the missing link for contractual reasons. The company is obligated to deliver a specific amount of natural gas, and the bypass creates a restriction in the pipeline that could affect delivery of the product.
The missing segment also is needed so the company can inspect and maintain the natural gas pipeline, Mr. Brown said.
But many of the attendees were not convinced.
Michael Pisauro, the policy director for the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association, pointed out that the Skillman Loop has been in place and active since Dec. 30, 2015. He said one of the streams that would be affected is a habitat for bridler shiner, a species of fish. The area is also home to the wood turtle.
Toni Granato, an administrative assistant for the New Jersey Sierra Club, called on the DEP to deny the applications. The trench will cause more environmental damage. If the company can’t go under the streams and wetlands, through them or over them, “maybe you shouldn’t build (the pipeline),” she said.
The “disruption and degradation” of the property will be substantial if permission is granted, said Sarah Roberts of the Sourland Alliance. The DEP should require the company to conduct an environmental impact study. The loss of drill bits should not affect the DEP’s decision to grant permission to dig a trench, because an “open cut” causes permanent damage, she said.
Jim Waltman said that as a citizen — not as the executive director of the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association — he opposes granting permission to dig an open trench to install the remainder of the natural gas pipeline.
“What are we all doing here tonight? It is absurd,” Mr. Waltman said.
The reason for drilling underground is to protect the natural resources, Mr. Waltman said. A trench will cause sedimentation in the stream and also destroy the habitat. Williams-Transco did not do its homework to find out about the geology underground, and that’s why it ran into those rock formations, he added.
“I have to give it to Transco. You guys have a lot of nerve,” said Hopewell resident Patty Cronheim. The company “messed up” by not conducting a geological investigation, she said, adding that the natural gas is already in the pipeline and the request shouldn’t even be considered.
But there was one attendee who was not critical of the company or the project.
Harry Speinheimer, who operates a small trucking company, said that Montgomery Township has changed. Years ago, there was nothing but dairy farms in Montgomery all the way to Somerville, but today the township is full of houses, he said.
“We live where there is a lot of rock,” Mr. Speinheimer said, pointing to Trap Rock Industries and its quarry, which is located in neighboring Franklin Township.
The public can submit written comments, postmarked by Feb. 26, to Mark Harris, Division of Land Use Regulation, Mail Code 501-02A, P.O. Box 420, Trenton, N.J. 08625-0420.

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