Editor's Note: Due to the overwhelming response Home Town Heroes will now be a TAPinto Series.
SOMERSET, NJ - One team of Franklin residents has bravely led an interstate fight against the fossil fuel industry. They aren’t paid, they aren’t funded, and they aren’t in it for the recognition. Rather, these local activists voluntarily entered into this battle for one reason: to protect the future of Franklin Township and its neighboring communities.
The Franklin Township Taskforce on Compressor Station 206 & NESE was formally organized in February 2017 by the Township Council to inform and engage with the Franklin community about the proposed construction of a compressor station facility and a fracked gas pipeline by corporation Williams/Transco and to put the project to an end.
The highly controversial Northeast Supply Enhancement project (NESE) proposes the construction of a fracked gas pipeline that would run from Raritan Bay in New Jersey to the Rockaways in Queens, New York. The 32,000 horsepower compressor station, a facility to support the transportation of the gas, is proposed to be built across 52 acres within Franklin’s Trap Rock Quarry, which is just south of the intersection between State Highway 27 and County Route 518.
Related article: Do You Know a Franklin Hometown Hero? (UPDATE)
It is now guided by a Steering Committee of five Franklin residents, including Barbara Cuthbert, Kirk Frost, Bernadette Maher, and Carol Kuehn, and Linda Powell, who describe themselves as “die-hard nature enthusiasts, environmentalists and concerned residents.”
The Taskforce has spent the last two years partnering with environmental groups across New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania to investigate Compressor Station 206 and NESE and the project’s proposals and permitting processes. Their work has included gaining in-depth knowledge regarding compressor stations, pipelines, and the federal and state regulatory bodies and processes, and challenging the corporate and legislative bodies that determine the project’s progression. Further, the Taskforce has worked tirelessly to communicate to residents the political, legal, and technical structure of their findings, along with the project’s environmental and human health impacts, which they contest will “irrevocably alter and contaminate the Franklin Township community.”
Surprisingly, none of the five Taskforce members approached this new battle with a professional background in environmental science, engineering, or law. Each member actually had different experiences, skillsets, and knowledge bases in fields such as education and healthcare.
“I had no idea what a compressor station was, or what any of the proposed structures were,” Taskforce Steering Committee member Barbara Cuthbert explained. “But once we committed to seeing it through, there was no going back.”
What brought these diverse individuals together was their deep-rooted commitment to the community of Franklin Township. In fact, this is how they met.
While the Taskforce was formally organized in 2017, the team members had been engaged in environmental activism within Franklin for several years prior. The team has been working with groups such as the Franklin Environmental Commission and the Franklin Advisory Board of Health and other community groups and in coalition with Environmental groups including Food and Water Watch, ReThink Energy New Jersey, Central Jersey Safe Energy Coalition, the New Jersey Sierra Club, New Jersey League of Conservation Voters and others.
The plans for Compressor Station 206 were first presented to South Brunswick, leading to the creation of Residents Against Compressor Station 206 (RACS 206). After attending these meetings and learning more about the project’s impacts, Cuthbert, Frost, Maher, Kuehn and Powell were inspired to create their own team based out of Franklin Township.
Before they knew it, the Taskforce was researching the project, hopping on conference calls, scheduling meetings and educational events, and speaking out at public hearings - and they haven’t stopped since.
Small Team, Big Accomplishments
In typical Warrior fashion, the Taskforce has achieved a number of local, state, and federal-level accomplishments despite their small team and limited resources.
As for our local communities, the Taskforce has consistently worked with Franklin Township Council liaisons to keep members informed about the project’s progress. Further, the team has educated residents in Franklin, Princeton, Parlin, Old Bridge and others through blog posts and Letters to the Editor, organized public forums, informational presentations, and rallies.
The Taskforce has also consistently loaded their website with resources about the project in addition to a series of actions that residents can take, including steps such as writing to a state representative or coming out to events.
This educational outreach has helped residents understand that the effects of this project – even the ones that you can’t see, like pollutants - are widespread and long lasting.
“We've worked really hard, because it's one of these things that people didn't understand anything about before it happened,” Cuthbert said. “So I do think a lot more people know about it and care about it, and we have seen that where we need people to come out to do something they will come out.”
The Taskforce’s work has also undoubtedly fostered a sense of solidarity and comradery across a number of New Jersey communities.
“Initially, a lot of people came in with a ‘Not-In-My-Backyard’ mindset, and were only thinking about their homes and their property values,” Powell said. “I think those folks have come a long way with this over the past two years where they realize it's not just about them, it’s all of New Jersey.”
In addition to rallying New Jersey’s local communities, the Taskforce has also partnered with a coalition of groups from New York and Pennsylvania as well. This level of interstate organization has amplified local concerns so that they are heard at a state and federal level.
“We've gone down to Trenton with other groups and we’ve talked to people at NJDEP and Governor Murphy’s environmental policy coordinators, and now we know [Compressor Station 206 and the NESE pipeline] is on the radar of NJDEP,” Cuthbert said. “I know we were a big part of getting them to pay attention to this as an issue.”
And the Taskforce has done more than just simply get it onto legislative agendas. Recently, they were able to get hundreds of concerned residents to attend a public hearing about the project with the NJDEP.
Further, one of the major accomplishments of the Taskforce has been their ability to delay the final decisions of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on two separate occasions. Through their diligent research, the Taskforce was able to identify gaps within Williams/Transco's construction proposals and make impactful presentations to FERC regarding the dangers of the project.
In the weeks and months to come, the Taskforce will continue to creatively challenge the project’s progression.
“What we still don't know is what will have the impact to stop it,” Cuthbert said. “We haven't found that magic bullet. We try different angles, and we follow up on other pipeline opposition projects for ideas, too. We don’t know exactly what will work, but we’ll try everything.”
Resilience in the face of challenges
The Taskforce is an unpaid, unfunded team of five people standing up to corporate, legal, and legislative teams made up of thousands of individuals. Their job requires them to sift through thousands of highly technical documents, dissect the important information, and condense them into a digestible format for both residents and policy makers to engage with.
A major challenge they face is simply managing the work load, and getting others to engage to the same degree.
“We've had some people with the environmental backgrounds or engineering backgrounds come to our meetings and offer some ideas, but they don't jump in and stick with it,” Cuthbert said. “That would be the challenge. Everybody's a volunteer. How do you get volunteers to stick with it over the long haul?”
The Taskforce members balance these ever-growing responsibilities with other commitments, including their own careers and their involvement with number of other community and volunteer groups. While the time commitment varies based on events, meetings, and the issuance of reports, Linda Powell explained that being a member of the Steering Committee has often felt like a full time job.
“Most of us are not professional organizers,” Taskforce Steering Committee member Linda Powell said. “We as the task force do not have the resources that some of these bigger environmental groups … we didn’t have the email lists, we didn’t have the calling lists, and we didn’t have interns.”
Not many people would dedicate years to paving an untrodden path and fighting an uphill battle for future generations of Franklin residents whom they may never meet; this is exactly what makes the Taskforce heroic.
“We're not experts, but we have remained committed to our research, consultation, sharing and planning work with diverse NJ, NY and National groups and people who share their experience, ideas and expertise in this marathon to fight against a project that would generate profits for the company while risking harm to our health and safety for decades if it is built,” Powell said.
To stay motivated in the face of political, legal and corporate hurdles, the team consistently works to recognize and employ each others’ diverse talents and to support one another through hard work and passion.
"I feel privileged to be working with such dedicated, unswervingly focused, and selflessly-serving team members whose commitment to the health and safety of our community and to environmental protection is a constant source of inspiration,” said Taskforce Steering Committee member Carol Kuehn.
Their exemplary service defines what it means to be a Hometown Hero, but more importantly, a Franklin Warrior. And they aren’t done yet.
“We just can't give up,” Cuthbert said. “We've come this far, we just have to keep going. I don't know what the future is as far as fighting, but we’re in it for the long haul.”
Upcoming Taskforce Events
So what’s next for the Taskforce?
On January 28th, 2019 at 2 pm, Assemblyman Joe Danielsen’s will bring Assembly Resolution 164 (AR 164), a resolution which expresses strong opposition of Compressor Station 206 and the NESE project to FERC, will be brought into the Danielsen’s Assembly Oversight Regulatory & Federal Relations Committee. This will allow the Resolution to go up for a vote.
The meeting will be held in the State House Annex 131 at 137 W. State Street Trenton NJ, 08608. Organizers will begin gathering at 1:40pm.
If you cannot attend the meeting, the Taskforce urges residents to contact New Jersey legislators to pressure them to pass this resolution. To participate in this action or to get moore information about the Taskforce, residents can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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