MERCER COUNTY: DEP sends pipeline application back to PennEast, sets deadline to May 26

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By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
The state Department of Environmental Protection has given the PennEast Pipeline Company a deadline of May 26 to complete its application for a freshwater wetlands individual permit, which is needed before the controversial pipeline project can go ahead., The proposed PennEast natural gas pipeline is 110 miles long and would bring natural gas from the Marcellus region of Pennsylvania through Hunterdon and Mercer counties., In its April 21 letter to PennEast, the DEP pointed to several deficiencies in the pipeline company’s application, and stated that until those deficiencies were resolved, it cannot begin to process the freshwater wetlands permit application., While pipeline opponents were pleased with the DEP’s action, a PennEast spokesman acknowledged the need to take the necessary steps to complete the application before it can proceed., The DEP wrote last month that the company had not provided copies of the deeds to the properties affected by the proposed pipeline. The deed shows the property boundaries, ownership, easements, restrictions, approvals by other governmental agencies “and any other information related to the site that will assist the DEP in assessing compliance with the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act rules.”, “This information ensures that all required neighboring property owners received notice of the application and that the project does not interfere with existing utility easements. Additionally, easement holders over the project may also hold property interests and be entitled to notice,” the DEP letter stated., PennEast also failed to attach a public notice of its intent to apply for an individual freshwater wetlands permit. The public notice would have been printed in a newspaper. The company must include a coy of the advertisement or a copy of an affidavit form the newspaper, stating that it had been published., The DEP wrote that while PennEast notified all property owners within 200 feet of the proposed disturbance – the area in which the pipeline would be installed – it did not submit tax maps showing the proposed disturbance outlined with an areas extending 200 feet from the disturbance. The tax maps are needed so that the DEP can ensure that all property owners are notified., As part of the application process, the DEP also requires a historical and archaeological survey of properties that are either listed on the New Jersey or National Register of Historic Places or that may be eligible for such listing., PennEast submitted a historical and archaeological survey, but it was limited to portions of the study corridor where property owners had granted permission for it. The survey has been completed along 14 miles of the 37-plus miles of the proposed pipeline in New Jersey., The DEP wrote that before it can consider the application to be complete, PennEast must submit a revised survey that investigates the entire length of the proposed pipeline corridor in New Jersey., Among the other deficiencies noted, one involved the lack of signatures of property owners who will be affected by the pipeline on a document that would give the company consent to access those properties., The DEP needs the signatures so that it can inspect the properties for items that include the accuracy of wetland delineations, archaeological resources, and threatened and endangered species habitat., “The lack of accurate resource information would also preclude neighbors and the public from commenting on an accurate submission,” the DEP wrote to PennEast., Opponents of the proposed PennEast pipeline were pleased at the DEP’s rejection of the company’s application for a freshwater wetlands permit., “The DEP rejection letter to PennEast for water permits is not only big news, it is a major setback,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club., “Not only has the DEP rejected PennEast’s application because it is deficient, but given all the missing information, it could take up to a year for PennEast to file again. PennEast wanted to rush through the process, but the DEP is stopping them in their tracks,” Tittel said., The DEP told PennEast that it did not have enough information and that much of the route has yet to be surveyed, Tittel said., By residents’ blocking PennEast from having access to their properties, “it shows what we are doing is working (because) PennEast doesn’t have enough information to move forward,” he said., In order to get a DEP wetlands permit, PennEast needs an exact map of the wetlands, the shape of the wetlands and how much will be impacted, Tittel said. The same standards apply to wetlands buffers, he said., Nevertheless, PennEast “believes it is a strong application that is substantially complete,” spokesman Pat Kornick said. The company thanked the DEP for thoroughly reviewing the permit application from an administrative completeness perspective., “PennEast will continue to work with the DEP to address the issues noted by the department to ensure that PennEast is working within the rules established by the federal government for interstate pipeline infrastructure projects,” Kornick said.