July 31, 2013

Pipeline Company Modifies Plan To Address Citizens’ Concerns

Citizens concerned about the effects of the proposed Transco pipeline addition on the Princeton Ridge met earlier this month with officials from The Williams Company, which wants to implement the project. The gathering included a two-hour walk through the area in question and left residents breathing easier about environmental and safety issues associated with the plan.

Officials from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Mayor Liz Lempert, and a representative from Representative Rush Holt’s office were among others who attended the meeting, according to Barbara Blumenthal. of the Princeton Ridge Coalition, a citizens’ group. The Oklahoma-based company wants to expand the existing natural gas pipeline that runs through a 1.3 mile section of the ridge between Coventry Farms and Cherry Valley Road.

Since the announcement last February of the company’s proposal, residents of the area that would be affected and other local citizens have been vocal in their concerns about blasting, the effects on the natural environment, and other related issues. Public meetings have been held by Williams and FERC, inviting citizen input. About 25 members of the Coalition were on hand for the most recent gathering, Ms. Blumenthal said.

“Williams presented their plan, which has been revised to try and do what we’ve asked them to do, which is to minimize the need to cut out trees,” she said on Monday. “Rather than assuming they would take a 50-foot corridor of new clearing, they’re going to try and work within the existing footprint. In some places, they may have to take out some trees. But the worst possible option is no longer on the table.”

The walk through the ridge was followed by a two-hour meeting at the Williams regional office on Farber Road. Williams spokesman Chris Stockton said the level of cooperation between the citizens’ group and the company is an example of what the pre-filing phase, which FERC instituted a decade ago, is supposed to do.

“There was a time when we’d just file an application and say, ‘This is what we want to do.’ And then people would say we didn’t consider their perspective,” Mr. Stockton said. “But that has changed. FERC created the pre-filing stage to facilitate early interaction between pipeline companies and interested stakeholders to make sure issues would be addressed early rather than sneaking up on us later. This is where a company needs to get on the ground and walk the route and identify potential solutions to lessen impact.”

Ms. Blumenthal said there are still issues to be considered. “They addressed an important one, which is the footprint,” she said. “But we still have very serious safety concerns about boulders and wetlands. We are waiting to get more information from them to run past our outside advisors so we can be reassured that the specific plans they haven’t figured out yet will be safe.”

One safety concern Williams has considered has to do with ground penetrating radar. “We’re happy we’ve been able to work with them and actually improve some of their plans on this,” Ms. Blumenthal said. “The big issue is that it’s unfortunate that the pipeline is in this location in the first place. Because if they were planning a new one today, they would not be putting it in the Princeton Ridge. There was discussion about this, and FERC officials made it clear they’d be looking at alternatives as part of the process.”

Mr. Stockton said Williams is currently in the design phase for the project, and plans to file its proposal with FERC this fall. The agency will then conduct a thorough review that will take approximately eight to 10 months before making its final decision.

“We’re happy that we engaged with them early,” said Ms. Blumenthal. “We sent a very powerful message about how important this is to Princeton.”