HomeHopewell Valley NewsHopewell NewsHOPEWELL: Township officials lawyer up to challenge PennEast application approval

HOPEWELL: Township officials lawyer up to challenge PennEast application approval

Taking the fight to PennEast, Hopewell Township officials have hired two law firms to challenge the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval of PennEast’s application to install a natural gas pipeline, and related condemnation proceedings to seize publicly-owned land.

Members of the Hopewell Township Committee approved a resolution to hire attorney Katelyn McElmoyl, of Parker McCay, to represent the township in its quest for FERC to re-hear PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC’s application. PennEast wants to build a 116-mile-long pipeline from Luzerne County, Pa., to Mercer County, which would end in Hopewell Township.

The resolution also authorizes hiring Timothy Duggan, of Stark & Stark, to challenge PennEast’s eminent domain filings – or condemnation proceedings – in federal district court. PennEast is attempting to seize portions of publicly-owned land that it needs for the pipeline, after Hopewell Township refused to grant permission.

The publicly-owned land in question includes Mercer County’s Baldpate Mountain, as well as the Hopewell Township Municipal Complex and adjacent Woolsey Park. Also, there is an open space lot on Pennington-Titusville Road, a small lot on Scotch Road, the Zaitz tract off County Route 546, and an open space lot next to the Zaitz tract.

FERC’s approval of PennEast’s application gave it the right to exercise eminent domain and seize land if it cannot be acquired through an easement granted by a property owner. Property owners may be compensated financially for the easement.

The township committee approved spending up to $40,000 for the FERC re-hearing issue and up to $10,000 for the eminent domain proceedings in the resolution adopted at its Feb. 13 meeting. Money will be earmarked in the 2018 municipal budget for the legal bills.

Mayor Kevin Kuchinski said township officials believe FERC’s decision was “fundamentally flawed,” and that’s why the township wants FERC to “re-hear” the application. Township officials are going to go “on the record” with legal arguments as to why they believe FERC’s approval of the application was flawed.

Patty Cronheim, of Hopewell Township Citizens Against the PennEast Pipeline, told the committee that PennEast is taking 28 Hopewell Township property owners to court over their refusal to grant permission for a permanent easement on their land. The property owners have rejected financial offers made by the company.

Cronheim said 69 percent of the property owners in New Jersey have refused to negotiate with PennEast for easements on their land. Some property owners have hired an attorney to represent them in court, following PennEast’s condemnation action, she said.

“We encourage Township Committee to stand strong with the homeowners, not just because it looks good, not just because it’s something you promised to do, but because of the risk of the pipeline to our township,” Cronheim said.

“Either we stand together or we fall apart,” she told the committee.

Kuchinski said that “the message to the public is, ‘We stand with you.'” Hopewell Township is fighting the issue of eminent domain and also is seeking to have FERC hold another hearing on the PennEast application, he said.

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