PRINCETON: Town becomes ‘intervener’ in pipeline project

The Princeton Council voted, 6-0, Monday to have the town become an “intervener” in a federal application a major pipeline company has filed to lay a new pipeline through Princeton and other

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
   The Princeton Council voted, 6-0, Monday to have the town become an “intervener” in a federal application a major pipeline company has filed to lay a new pipeline through Princeton and other parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
   By becoming a party in the case, Princeton will have rights that include being able to appeal a decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the body that must decide whether to allow Oklahoma-based Williams to go ahead with the project.
   Williams, having filed its application with FERC Sept. 30, wants to lay around 28 miles of new pipeline to increase its capacity to transport natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania to its customers. The company wants to upgrade compressor stations as well.
   The extension through Princeton would run for 1.2 miles, through the “environmentally sensitive Princeton Ridge,” according to the resolution the council passed Monday. Neighboring Montgomery is also in the path of the expansion.
   Aside from carrying the right to appeal, intervener status allows Princeton to review all documents from all the parties in the case and participate in hearings before FERC. The application process takes anywhere from eight to 10 months, Williams has said.
   Based on its time line, Williams has said it wants to start working on the compressor station portion of the project next fall, followed by pipeline work in spring 2015.
   Mayor Liz Lempert said Wednesday that if the project goes through, it would carry “significant” health and environmental risks. She supports becoming a party to the process.
   ”Clearly Princeton Township has a keen interest in the project and filing for intervention status is another formal channel for them to remain closely engaged,” said Williams spokesman Christopher L. Stockton in an email Thursday. “We’ve developed and maintained a constructive dialogue with the township and believe we’ve taken prudent steps to address many of their concerns. We’re committed to continuing to work closely with the township as the project progresses through the federal review process.”
   Williams, headquartered in Tulsa, already owns an existing pipe that goes through Princeton. Some have raised safety concerns about crews doing work on the expansion while the existing pipeline is in use.
   But Williams is seeking permission to shut down its current pipeline in Princeton while the extension is installed, according to an Oct.10 memo that town attorney Edwin W. Schmierer provided Mayor Lempert and the council.
   Barb Blumenthal, a Princeton resident who is president of the nonprofit Princeton Ridge Coalition, said Thursday that it was important to have the town become an intervener, but added it is “equally” important the individual residents do likewise. She said especially for those who have property near the pipeline, they would have no standing to challenge a decision by FERC if they do not become an intervener.
   She said if Williams ever wanted to change the route of the pipeline, impacted property owners would be unable to challenge that decision unless they become an intervener before an Oct. 31 deadline.
   ”It’s a simple step to preserve your rights,” she said.
   Williams has tried to work with the community.
   In his memo, Mr. Schmierer wrote that Williams “reduced substantially the area of disturbance on the Princeton Ridge and recently informed us that none of the Princeton open space will be impacted.”