CLARK, NJ - The Clark Environmental Commission met on Friday evening to discuss the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline and its potential impact on the township. An informal discussion included participation by members of the public.

Chairman Kevin Koch shared information he had obtained at an informational meeting held in Watchung on Tuesday evening.

According to a localized map, the pipeline would split in the area of Oak Ridge Park.  One spur would run east through the township, the southern end of Westfield and Roselle before reaching the refinery in Linden for oil processing.  The southbound spur would extend through parts of Woodbridge Township enroute to storage facilities in Port Reading.   

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The two-way pipeline would carry Bakken oil, obtained through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in North Dakota, from Albany to Linden for processing. Refined products would then be returned to Albany.  Oil and refined products are currently shipped via barges on the Hudson River or on railcar. According to the Watchung presentation document, the southbound spur would only carry refined product.

In Clark, the pipeline would run along an existing right of way that already contains a pipeline and high-tension power lines. The commission discussed the potential damage construction of the Pilgrim Pipeline could cause to the existing infrastructure. 

Koch said that most pipeline failures are not caused by internal corrosion, but rather from external damage that compromises the integrity of the structure leading to failure over time.

The group discussed the public/private status of the project.  Koch said that Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings LLC is a private company and not a public utility.  As such, they have no ability to execute eminent domain to obtain property or rights of way they may need to implement the plan.  Eminent domain could only be employed if the company obtains public utility status either through the NJ Board of Public Utilities or through partnering with an existing public utility company.

The subject of inspections was discussed in the context of both construction and long-term pipeline oversight.  Concerns regarding the ability of the government to adequately inspect the project during and after construction were raised.  Self-monitoring and self-reporting protocols were also questioned. 

The group next tackled a discussion of potential spills or leaks and the impact on the local water supply.

“While we don’t want to see any leaks, at least a barge or a railcar you would immediately see it’s leaking.  A pipeline you don’t.  By the time you see it, tens of thousands of gallons of oil can be spilled,” said Koch. “These pipelines are out of sight, out of mind.”

“I look at all the waterways along the pipeline,” said resident Gerry Caprario, “And our water here is municipal well.  Rahway’s water comes from the river and that’s a problem.

Koch said there were a variety of federal, state and municipal permits that would need to be obtained for the project to be allowed. These included stream crossing, state raparian rights, wetlands and Green Acres permits.

“All of these things have been put in over the years to protect water resources,” Koch said.

Commission-alternate Ellen Mulligan brought up the issue of tax rebates and property values.  Koch indicated there was no clear financial benefit to the Township or potential tax rebate to residents. 

As the discussion drew to a close, Koch summarized the reasons he was opposed to the pipeline. 

“There’s potential environmental damage from the installation of it; there’s environment damage if it leaks, there’s potential damage to adjacent utilities when they put it in that we might not be aware of that will cause a rupture later on; there’s a lack of oversight,” he said.  “There is just no benefit.”

Commissioner Ed Dubroski agreed, “I say no.  I’m against it. It doesn’t benefit us.”

The commissioners, Koch, Mulligan, Dubroski and Martha Kamichoff, voted unanimously to provide two recommendations to the town council.

The first would recommend the town council pass a resolution in opposition to the construction of the Pilgrim Pipeline.  The second would recommend the town look into passing an ordinance prohibiting the construction of new pipelines in Clark.

It is anticipated the Clark Town Council will take action on the matter at its meeting on Monday, Dec. 15 at 7:30 p.m.