Union workers, residents debate need for pipeline upgrades

FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP – As one pulled into the Franklin Township Senior Center parking lot on May 2, he/she was met with a sea of lime green.

Then, a wave of bright orange was visible.

Nearby, a truck was blaring music and flashing various message signs, which accompanied the union members who were wearing brightly colored T-shirts, supporting a compressor station project geared for the greater Brunswick/Princeton area:

Enhance New Jersey’s infrastructure.

National gas pipelines are 4.5 times safer than rail.

New Jersey faces a 15 percent power deficit by 2030.

Carbon dioxide emissions are down 27 percent while natural gas generation is up 46 percent since 2005.

Labor supports NESE.

Literally across the street, the opposite messages were displayed on posters held by a group of more than 100 people gathered in protest:

Stop NESE and Save the Raritan Bay.

Do Not Poison Our Air.

Got peace? Not with a compressor station as a neighbor.

No more air pollution. Stop NESE.

The Williams Company operates the Transco pipeline, a 10,000-mile interstate transmission pipeline system that transports much of the natural gas consumed in the northeastern United States. The system includes more than 50 compressor facilities and currently features more than 500 miles of pipe and five compressor facilities in New Jersey, according to information provided by Williams regarding its Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) Project.

The NESE Project is a proposed $1 billion enhancement of existing Transco infrastructure in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York in time for the 2019-20 heating season that includes a proposed new compressor facility in Franklin Township, known as Station 206. It will feature two natural gas-fired turbine compressor units with a combined output of 32,000 horsepower.

The preferred location is a 52-acre tract approximately one mile south of the intersection of routes 27 and 518; the 16-acre site would be surrounded by a wooded buffer, according to the company.

Over the course of several meetings, representatives of Williams have said sound will not be noticeable to nearby residents due to nine inches of sound-buffering insulation; vibration will not be perceptible to the human body; air quality will not be an issue due to state-of-the-art emission control technology, including Selective Catalytic Reduction systems; and safety is not a factor since the pipeline has safely operated in Somerset County since 1950, the station will be monitored 24/7 by the centralized operations control center and there will be automatic emergency shutdown systems and computerized controls designed for remote operation, according to information provided by the company.

“The compressor station will be built with the highest quality and safety standards in place, ensuring the impact to the local community is minimal. Moreover, this entire project will create several thousand good paying jobs for hard-working New Jerseyans, while pumping several hundred million dollars into the state’s economy,” Robert A. Briant, CEO of the Utility and Transportation Contractors Association, said in a prepared statement.

“This project is more than just facts and figures on paper – it represents the first step toward building a financially viable and competitive New Jersey where everyone wins. Combining the opportunity to put more than 2,400 men and women to work in prevailing wage jobs and significantly improving our state’s existing infrastructure at the same time is the model that all projects should strive for. That is why the Operating Engineers Local 825 is urging FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) to move this forward,” Greg Lalevee, business manager for the International Union of Operation Engineers Local 825, said in the statement.

“This is the kind of economic driver that the State of New Jersey sorely needs. This project will enhance and improve our state’s existing infrastructure, making clean, American-made natural gas more affordable and reliable. Moreover, these improvements will occur with a minimum direct impact to the people of New Jersey. It’s a win-win,” Ciro Scalera, director of government relations for the Laborers’-Employers’ Cooperation & Education Trust (LiUNA), said in the statement.

However, the hundred-plus residents and legislators who gathered in front of the senior center building have a drastically different opinion.

Barry Koch said he has to take a personal stance, since he only has 50 percent breathing capacity in his lungs. He said anything from dust to aerosols in the air makes it difficult for him to catch his breath.

He said he formed the first opposition group in July 2016 after receiving a letter from Williams, and has worked since to combat the project’s alleged safety, emission and noise problems.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of people in our communities … who this can really seriously impact,” he said.

Amanda Eisenhower of Princeton University called the project “incomplete,” saying university students never would be allowed to turn in research that is not of the highest integrity. She claimed emissions were only evaluated a quarter-mile from the site, and studies are outdated to avoid a proper health impact assessment.

“Young people like me will have to live with the consequences of the decisions being made today for decades to come,” she said, noting Williams wants to boost the economy in the present day without considering affordable and viable renewable resources for the future.

“This project represents a step backwards from the sustainable future we all need,” she said.

Junior Romero, of Food & Water Watch, said Middlesex County already has an “F” rating per the American Lung Association, and thus the compressor station will deepen that deficiency. He said he “fears” for the safety of the 1,000-plus residents who live in the blast radius, as well as the sensitive marine life in the Raritan Bay.

He urged Gov. Phil Murphy to take action against the pipeline expansion project, just as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently denied a permit for the project.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, encouraged offshore wind instead of drilling and mining for energy sources, citing pipelines as a threat to clean water.

“What happens is, the gas company makes money, New York and Long Island get the gas, and you get the pipe,” he said before leading a chant of “Lock NESE out.” “This is the crossroads of the American Revolution. We’re not going to let it be the crossroads of a pipeline.”

South Brunswick Councilman Joe Camarota said as a representative of the town, the Princeton Manor residents and South Brunswick’s task force on the issue, he supports the fight against the project.

“We’re on our way to victory. Let’s keep pushing it; let’s keep fighting. Stop this greed. Stop this money grabbing. We are serious about our lives, our children’s lives and our grandchildren’s lives,” he said.

Michele Langa, staff attorney for the NY/NJ Baykeeper, said construction and debris will harm habitats of marine life, such as turtles, seals, dolphins and sturgeon, while also disrupting their behavioral patterns, plus interrupt fishing, boating and clamming in the Raritan Bay.

The Ven. Hungampola Sirirathana Nayake Thero of the New Jersey Buddhist Vihara Meditation Center in Franklin commented through translator Dr. Wije Kottahachchi he understands the need to expand power generation, but it should be in a place less populated.

After several more speakers rallied outside the senior center, representatives of Williams took comments one-on-one inside the building.

For more information, visit www.scrap-NESE.org or email stopFTcompressor@yahoo.com.

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@newspapermediagroup.com.

Union workers from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers support the Williams-Transco pipeline compressor station project during a rally on May 2 at the Franklin Township Senior Center.
More than 100 people attended a rally opposing the Williams-Transco pipeline compressor station project on May 2 at the Franklin Township Senior Center.
Amanda Eisenhower, a student at Princeton University, speaks against the Williams-Transco pipeline compressor station project during a rally on May 2 at the Franklin Township Senior Center.
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