April 9, 2014

New Mapping of Pipeline Path Secured by Efforts of Residents

Nudged into action by local residents concerned about the environmental effects of a proposed natural gas pipeline, the Williams company has conducted additional wetlands surveys of properties that would be affected by the project. The surveys were completed in the presence of members of the Princeton Ridge Coalition, the Stony-Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, local officials, and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

Four properties between Ridgeview and Cherry Valley roads were the focus of the effort. Responding last February to a statement by the Stony Brook-Watershed Association that they had failed to produce required mapping, a Williams spokesman said “incomplete survey permissions” prevented them from having access to the area of concern, adding that they had provided mapping for the NJDEP to the agency’s satisfaction “for the Letter of Interpretation process.”

But Barbara Blumenthal of the Princeton Ridge Coalition said the company had not attempted to contact the homeowners whose properties had yet to be surveyed.

“They [Williams] used the excuse that they didn’t have permission from the landowners,” she said. “It’s hard to get permission when you don’t try. So we went ahead and collected the permission and forwarded it to them, let the DEP know, and that seemed to help.”

Williams wants to expand its natural gas pipeline through environmentally sensitive areas of the Princeton Ridge and Montgomery Township, affecting some 30 properties. The Princeton Ridge Coalition has been working to ensure that wetlands are protected and safety considerations are a priority. The group plans to review the new maps for accuracy and continue to provide data to the NJDEP on endangered species they observe living, breeding, and feeding on the Ridge.

According to the group, Williams’s prior surveys left out important features on the path of the original pipeline, which was installed in the 1950’s. “These include watercourses, wetlands with active seeps, springs within and adjacent to the path, as well as state open waters occurring within 50 feet of the path,” according to a press release from the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association.

“The original pipeline on the site constructed in the 1950s was a mistake by today’s standards,” said Jennifer M. Coffey, that organization’s Policy Director. “We now know that alternatives to traditional construction practices will help mitigate damages to these sensitive environmental habitats. To their credit, Williams has agreed to construction modifications, but viable alternatives to the currently proposed pathway should continue to be examined.”

The Princeton Ridge is home to wetlands and streams, providing a habitat for threatened and endangered species including the barred owl, wood turtle, and red shouldered hawk, according to the press release. “Wetlands are important because they filter water, and protect against flooding,” it reads.

The mapping of the four properties revealed areas of considerable environmental sensitivity. “We were right,” said Ms. Blumenthal. “There are extensive wetlands there, and it will make a difference.”