April 17, 2013

Montgomery Homeowners Turn Out For Open House On Proposed Pipeline

Residents of Princeton and Montgomery Township pored over maps and examined documents last week at an open house held by the Williams Company, which wants to build a 6.5-mile natural gas pipeline through 1.2 miles of Princeton and 5.3 miles of Montgomery. Crowded into the Otto Kaufman Community Center on Skillman Road, the property owners expressed their concerns about blasting, environmental disturbance, and other possible results of the project at the informal gathering.

More than one resident said they had expected a formal presentation. But staffers from the Williams Company preferred to speak with people individually. Several were stationed throughout the room, identifiable by their Williams polo shirts and ready to answer questions about the pipeline, known as the Skillman Loop. Part of Williams’ $600 million Leidy Southeast Expansion Project, it is being built to carry the natural gas coming from the Marcellus shale fields in western Pennsylvania, and would run parallel to an existing pipeline built in 1958.

The project was first proposed at a meeting in Princeton last February. “Since hearing from people at that meeting, we have made some modifications to the route,” said project manager John Todd. “That’s one of the reasons we hold these gatherings, to communicate and talk to the landowners. After that meeting, we took engineers and environmental scientists to look at some of the properties. They had viable concerns.”

The company tweaked the original plan to move the line from the east side of the Cherry Run Stream to the west side. Mr. Todd said he doesn’t know yet whether the project will involve blasting. “But they usually do,” he said.

Williams is still in the pre-filing stages of the project, and expects to file its application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) this fall. Representatives from FERC were also on hand at the meeting to answer questions. Should the project be accepted, construction could start in the fall of 2014.

The Princeton portion of the pipeline would stretch from the Coventry Farm development off the Great Road, south of Stuart Road, toward Cherry Valley Road, and continue another five miles to Montgomery. Several Princeton residents who attended the February meeting and another, unofficial gathering on the Princeton University campus expressed major concerns about the project. Safety and environmental issues were among their biggest worries.

Those in the crowd at last week’s open house included representatives from environmental groups including the Sourland Planning Council, who distributed written material. “People are here, hungry for information and they’re going to leave with very little,” said Tracy Carluccio, a Sourland trustee. “They want to know how close it will come to their properties, and they’re not learning anything tonight. There’s no presentation.”

Former Montgomery Township Mayor Louise Wilson was among those examining the maps that the Williams Company had laid out on tables, showing where the proposed loop would go. The company has installed a line in Montgomery once before, she said, but further north, and affecting only three property owners.

“They did a good job dealing with the disruption to properties, but a not-so-good job at stream bank restoration,” she said. “They have way more homeowners to address this time, and I’m curious to see how they will handle it.”

The Skillman Loop is part of the Transco pipeline running 10,200 miles from south Texas to New York City. Another proposed project, called the Stanton Loop, would affect homeowners in Hunterdon County through Clinton, Union, Franklin, and Readington.