PRINCETON: Proposed pipeline project gets favorable federal agency review

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Pipeline company Williams on Monday received a favorable federal environmental report about its proposed new natural gas pipeline that would go through parts of Princeton and Montgomery.
In a 474-page document, staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission examined the proposal and concluded "approval of this project would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment."
"It’s not a surprise. They’ve never met a pipeline that they didn’t like," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, by phone Monday.
The report, however, based it conclusions by citing the measures the company plans to take as well as 25 other staff-recommended steps.
The matter next goes to the five-member commission for a decision, said FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen on Monday. The agency is accepting public comment through Sept.10.
The company, headquartered in Oklahoma, has proposed installing 29.8 miles of 42-inch pipeline segments through parts of Hunterdon, Somerset and Mercer counties in New Jersey and Monroe and Luzerne counties in Pennsylvania.
Williams already operates a pipeline in the Princeton. The company is looking to start the project in October.
The aim of the expansion is to enable Williams to increase its capacity to transport gas to its customers. In Princeton, the project would run for 1.3 miles through the Princeton Ridge.
Residents and environmental groups have expressed concern about environmental impacts the project will have, including the safety risk in case of an explosion during construction.
Patty L. Fagin, the head of Stuart Country Day School, wrote to FERC on Aug. 4 urging the agency to "conduct additional expert review and analysis" of the company’s plans for safety and environmental impacts.
The report goes into the environment, noting that the project would impact 37 wetlands in New Jersey and 51 in Pennsylvania.
The FERC report said the company "would conduct follow-up inspections of all disturbed upland areas to determine the success of restoration and would monitor the success of wetland revegetation annually for the first three years, or as required by permit, after construction, or longer, until wetland revegetation is successful."
The company has tried to work with residents, including proposing a narrower work corridor to disturb fewer trees. Williams has said that it does not anticipate having to use blasting during excavation.
"Williams understands the concerns expressed with regard to the safe installation of the Transco pipeline and minimizing environmental impacts during construction," said company spokesman Christopher L. Stockton by email Monday. "We believe the FERC’s environmental assessment confirms our commitment to constructing and operating this pipeline project in a safe, environmentally sensitive manner so that we can deliver much-needed additional natural gas supply to the region."
Residents have wanted Williams to take its existing pipeline out of service during the project. But FERC staff said the company would take "special construction methods to protect existing pipeline facilities from damage during construction, and we find these plans acceptable."
During rock-hammering, the existing natural gas pipeline would be turned off and high-pressure water would be run instead, the report said.
Elsewhere in the report, the FERC staff said it had considered alternate construction methods but found they "were either infeasible or did not offer a significant environmental advantage over Transco’s proposed method."
Aside from neighbors, the proposal also has drawn the attention of members of New Jersey congressional delegation, including Rep. Rush Holt (D-12). He wrote to FERC last month.
"I can assure you that our decision will be based on a careful review of the issues relating to this project and will be rooted in the law, facts and science," wrote FERC chairwoman Cheryl A. LaFleur in an Aug. 5 letter in response to him.