PRINCETON: Health board expresses concerns about pipeline

The Princeton Board of Health added its voice Tuesday to the chorus of concern directed at a proposed natural gas pipeline project that has residents worried.

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
   The Princeton Board of Health added its voice Tuesday to the chorus of concern directed at a proposed natural gas pipeline project that has residents worried.
   The board, hearing from three community members at its meeting, passed a resolution that among other things asks for an environmental impact statement of a project that pipeline company Williams intends to seek federal approval for later this year.
   Williams, headquartered in Tulsa, already owns an older pipeline that goes through Princeton. The company has proposed adding roughly 30 miles of new pipeline through parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania so that Williams can increase its ability to transport gas from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. Williams’ customers include utility companies.
   The Princeton Ridge, made up of large rocks, trees and wetlands, is along the proposed route of the expansion that would run mostly parallel to the older pipeline. Some residents who live in the affected area have expressed concerns about their safety, worried about Williams using blasting and the possibility of an explosion.
   Princeton Councilwoman Heather H. Howard, who sits on the Board of Health, said Wednesday that there needs to be a “rigorous environmental” assessment of doing the project in ways that minimize the risk to the public health and safety. “We need the experts to analyze all the different . . . approaches,” she said.
       An environmental impact statement would have to be commissioned by the federal government.
   Williams’ proposal has been met with opposition from environmental groups, including the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club. But Williams’ spokesman Chris Stockton said Wednesday that the company feels the most “environmentally sensitive” thing to do is to use the existing pipeline corridor rather than lay pipe somewhere else.
   Kip Cherry, who spoke at Tuesday’s Board of Health meeting, said Wednesday that she hoped the board would “continue to look” at the public health impacts of the proposed pipeline project. Ms. Cherry, affiliated with the Sierra Club, said there are issues from the possibility of an explosion to concerns about air and water pollution.
   For its part, Williams intends in the fall to file an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that would have to decide whether to approve the project. Aside for putting in new pipeline, the company also is calling for modifying compressor stations and valve sites.
   Ms. Cherry said an environmental impact statement would, among other things, assess the future impact of the project on natural wildlife that today live in the Princeton Ridge.
   ”This new pipeline would dramatically change the habitat of the ridge because it would remove a large number of trees, changing the quality of a number of streams and would have an enormous impact on the residents as well,” she said.
   Mr. Stockton said Wednesday that as part of the pre-filing period, FERC wants community feedback.
   The town has no role in granting permission, but officials are considering whether the town should be an “intervenor” in the application. Such a move is necessary to give the municipality legal standing should the town want to challenge FERC’s decision.
   FERC had a meeting June 13 in Hillsborough Middle School to gather input from the public on the project. Concerned that some residents might not have been able to get there due to the bad weather that night, the town plans to have a community meeting June 26 at 7 p.m. in Witherspoon Hall.
   At that time, the public can voice their concerns and have those comments sent to FERC and made part of the official record.
   ”We want to make sure that the town’s concerns are fully and adequately conveyed to FERC,” Mayor Liz Lempert said Wednesday. “And that we want to make sure that concerned residents have another opportunity before the deadline to submit comments” to FERC July 1. FERC’s web site is