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Transco Compressor Project Stirs Critics at Bordentown Meeting

Residents argue that state can block what they see as a dangerous project by refusing to issue water-quality permits

gas protest

Public resistance to natural-gas pipelines flared again on Thursday when around 180 residents of Bordentown, Chesterfield, and nearby towns urged the Department of Environmental Protection to deny water-quality permits to the Williams Cos., which wants to build a compressor station near residential areas and wetlands.

Most speakers at a public meeting called by the DEP said the compressor station would endanger air and water quality and threaten public safety by increasing the amount of gas that would be pumped from the national Transco line to the planned Southern Reliability Link through the New Jersey Pinelands.

Williams, which owns and operates the Transco line, wants to build the compressor station and associated equipment at Chesterfield in Burlington County, and plans to increase the capacity of an existing compressor to the north as part of the project.

The project, called the Garden State Expansion (GSE), is designed to improve the reliability of gas service to customers in 83 municipalities in Monmouth, Burlington, and Ocean Counties, and to provide enough natural gas to serve about 1 million homes, the company said.

Christopher Stockton, a spokesman for Williams, said the company will ensure that water quality is not affected by the new facility. He noted that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had examined possible water-quality impacts when it gave the project a green light in an Environmental Assessment last November.

But critics argue that the New Jersey DEP could still block the project if it denies water-quality permits, as New York State did in April when it halted construction on the controversial Constitution Pipeline from Pennsylvania to New York.

Opponents of new gas pipelines have also fought a determined campaign for several years against the proposed PennEast line which would take natural gas from northeastern Pennsylvania to a point in Mercer County, NJ.

Some speakers at the meeting in a Bordentown Regional High School auditorium called on the DEP to follow the lead of the Cuomo administration in denying a water-quality permit to the other line, which is also owned by Williams.

Others accused Williams of seeking to circumvent state approval for the New Jersey project by first obtaining approval from FERC, which critics often insist is a rubber stamp for gas-industry projects.

“They have gone behind your backs after being told by the DEP of this public hearing, and asked FERC to allow them to start construction of the compressor,” Glenn Ashton, a Bordentown resident and a member of People Over Pipelines, a local campaign group, told the meeting.

Ashton accused the company of having a poor safety record, and of failing to recognize that most homes around the compressor site are served by private water wells that he said would be at risk of contamination from the compressor station.

“These are our homes, schools, churches, farmland, and our children’s futures at risk,” Ashton said. “We have to avoid our communities turning into a Flint, Michigan,” he said, referring to the widely publicized lead contamination of the city’s public water system.

Ashton was one of at least two speakers who were ejected from the meeting by state troopers after exceeding a three-minute speaking limit set by DEP officials.

Richard Bezub, an official with the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, said FERC approved the project on the basis of its commercial need and the rates that would be charged to customers rather than on an assessment of the public interest, which he said is the DEP’s responsibility in determining the impact on wetlands.

“In New Jersey, environmental impacts are clearly a matter of the public interest,” Bezub said.

Alex Robotin, deputy mayor of Chesterfield, said the compressor station would pose a threat to local facilities like schools and sports fields. “Our elementary school is fairly close to it,” he told NJ Spotlight. “If anything were to happen, our children are in harm’s way.”

But Jeff Holley, who represented a unionized construction company, was in a minority of supporters at the meeting when he said the project would generate 100,000 man-hours of work. “I understand that there’s going to be emotions on both sides,” he said, to applause.

Stockton, the Williams spokesman, said before the meeting that the company will conduct pre- and post-construction monitoring of private water wells near the site, and if requested by property owners, will conduct a third-party sampling of private water wells within a quarter-mile radius of the project before construction.

Jon Hurdle is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who often reports on environmental issues.

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