August 13, 2014

Ridge Coalition Will Fight FERC Decision on Pipeline

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s opinion that the Williams/Transco company’s proposed pipeline project on the Princeton Ridge doesn’t pose major safety or environmental issues has members of a local citizens’ group planning to take action. The Princeton Ridge Coalition, which has been monitoring plans for the project, intends to challenge the agency’s official assessment, which was released this week.

“We’re going to fight this,” said Coalition member Barbara Blumenthal of FERC’s determination that the proposed project would result in “limited adverse environmental impacts.” The 474-page assessment also states that approval of the project “would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.”

Princeton Council passed a resolution last month encouraging FERC to reject Williams/Transco’s current construction plan. The company wants to install a new pipeline loop through Mercer, Somerset, and Hunterdon counties as well as two counties in Pennsylvania. The local portion that would run through the environmentally sensitive Princeton Ridge is part of the Skillman Loop. An existing natural gas pipeline built in 1958 is not sufficient to handle current production demands, the company has said.

Reacting to the assessment, Mayor Liz Lempert said Tuesday in an email, “The Princeton Ridge forest and the Mountain Lakes area are of exceptional environmental value. And the safety concerns raised by the Princeton Ridge Coalition are real and serious. I’m still making my way through the report, but the initial findings are disturbing and hard to fathom.”

The Coalition has met repeatedly with Williams/Transco representatives about safety and environmental issues, and the company has made some concessions along the way. In addition to worries about disturbance of wetlands, the Coalition has voiced concerns about possible blasting of the area’s boulders and bedrock. But the assessment calls on Williams/Transco to remove boulders and shallow bedrock by hammering and breaking of rocks rather than blasting.

Ms. Blumenthal said she was disappointed but not surprised by much of the assessment. “The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in June that FERC was violating NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act) in their environmental assessments,” she said. “And this is the first assessment that has come out since that ruling. Everybody has told us that, as far as we know, FERC has never issued an EA (environmental assessment) that has a finding of significant impact. So this is just par for the course. They’ve never seen a pipeline they didn’t like.”

The public has 30 days to comment on FERC’s assessment. “We feel we have very strong ground,” Ms. Blumenthal said. Williams/Transco is expecting FERC to approve the project this fall. Construction could begin in April of 2015.

Commenting on the FERC opinion in a press release, the company said, “Williams understands the concerns expressed with regard to the safe installation of the Transco pipeline and minimizing environmental impacts during construction. We believe the FERC’s Environmental Assessment confirms our commitment to construction and operating this pipeline project in a safe, environmentally sensitive manner so that we can deliver much-needed additional natural gas supply to this region.”