FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, NJ - The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection recently denied Transco/Williams, the permit application necessary for advancing the construction of the Northeast Supply Enhancement pipeline project.
The Northeast Supply Enhancement project (NESE) is a fracked gas pipeline that would potentially run from Raritan Bay in New Jersey to a pipeline offshore of the Rockaways in Queens, New York. It is an expansion of the preexisting Transcontinental Gas Pipeline, which brings natural gas from as far south as the Gulf Coast of Texas up to the New Jersey and New York region.
The $1 billion project includes the highly controversial construction of a compressor station on a 52-acre site in Franklin, near State Highway 27 and County Route 518.
In June, Transco/Williams submitted an application to the Division of Land Use Regulation for a series of permits, including a Flood Hazard Area Individual Permit, a Flood Hazard Area Verification, a Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit, a Waterfront Development Permit, and a Coastal Wetland Permit. This application was first denied on July 18th, and while Transco/Williams reapplied, The Division of Land Use Regulation determined that the application still remained deficient on September 12th.
Citing the NJDEP’s deficiency letter, the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club released a statement condemning the project.
“The DEP has once again found Transco’s application for water permits for their NESE project deficient,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, in the press release. “This is because it’s a bad project and the applications are incomplete. Now we need to urge the NJDEP to throw out Transco’s application together.”
The New Jersey Sierra Club argues that the proposed compressor station would create detrimental air, water, and noise pollution in its surrounding areas, and that the pipeline poses pollution risks to New Jersey waterways, especially the Raritan Bay.
“This project would cut through the already polluted and sensitive Raritan Bay and the New York Bay,” Tittel said. “It could carry and release contaminated sediment into the environment and both bodies of water and disturb contaminated sites. When you cut through a bay like the Raritan, it has an impact on the fisheries as well as the ecology of the Bay. The fish, plants and other living creatures in the Bay would be threatened by this pipeline.”
Along with a number of other opponents to the project, the New Jersey Sierra Club also asserts that NESE would be a step backwards in New Jersey and New York's respective transitions to renewable energy.
Transco/Williams regarded the deficiency letter as “a normal part of the state’s permit application process” and that it is “common for a permit application [of] this size”.
“We continue to actively collaborate with NJDEP to satisfy its application requirements so that it can be considered administratively complete and processed in a timely manner,” said Christopher L. Stockton, a Williams media representative for Atlantic Gulf and Transco. “In that regard, we plan to file a response to NJDEP’s notification shortly. It is unfortunate that some organizations would attempt to misrepresent what is a normal step in the permit application process.”
A closer look at the deficiency letter shows that the application failed to a number of missing components, rather than proven environmental hazards.
What are the problems with the application?
#1. Missing property consent
Transco/Williams’ project plans and tax maps currently interfere with privately owned properties which are not within their existing right-of-way. NJDEP requires that Transco/Williams receive written property owner consent prior to construction.
According to Transco/Williams, there is one outstanding property owner with two parcels of land that they are still seeking consent from.
#2. Missing Sediment and Analysis Plan
Construction of the pipeline requires a process called dredge and fill, which involves removing sediment from one area and using it as backfill, or replacement sediment, in a different location. The removed sediment must match the consistency and chemistry of its new location so as to cause the least environmental disturbance.
NJDEP’s Dredging Technical Manual requires that Transco/Williams complete additional sediment testing that evaluates the placement of that dredged material at a site upland from its original location. When the final Sediment and Analysis Plan is submitted, the NJDEP will review it for approval.
#3. Missing sediment disposal approval from United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)
Transco/Williams is looking to dispose of dredged sediment to a Historic Area Remediation Site and other sites. This requires a laboratory survey of the chemical composition of the sediment to ensure it will have a beneficial impact to the site.
As of yet, Transco/Williams has not received approval from the USACE to do so.
#4. Missing dredge source agreement from USACE
Transco/Williams is currently evaluating several sources from which they will dredge sediment, including the Ambrose Channel, the Jamaica Bay Entrance Channel, the Sandy Hook Channel, and the U.S. Army Earle Entrance Channel.
Approval for the dredged sources must come from the USACE prior to construction, and there has been no documentation of such agreement.
#5-8. Missing aspects of Stormwater Management
There appear to be four stormwater management deficiencies within the permit application that are, according to the letter, “under review by [NJDEP] engineering staff” and will be addressed in the near future.
What are the next steps for NESE?
Since this permit application has been denied by the NJDEP, construction has effectively been stalled. The New Jersey Sierra Club viewed this as a success for their environmental agenda.
“This is important not only for the communities of this region but for all of New Jersey,” Tittel said in a press release. “No matter how many times Transco/Williams reapplies for these permits, we will continue to fight to keep this damaging project from being built. Franklin Township and Raritan Bay will be saved for now, but we will keep battling. Every time you delay a project, it’s a small win for the environment.”
However, the story doesn’t end here.
“Although the application remains deficient, the Division will continue to work with Transco to assist in addressing the outstanding deficiency items,” Christopher Jones, Manager of the Division of Land Use Regulation at the NJDEP, wrote in the deficiency letter, explaining that the Division has and will continue to meet with Transco/Williams representatives and facilitate the submittal of the missing information.
For local environmental activists, this permit process has less to do with meeting standards and more to do with loopholes and power structures.
“Transco/Williams is a very competent company,” said Barbara Cuthbert, a member of the Franklin Township Taskforce on Compressor Station 206 and NESE. “All this stuff that they write, they do it well. When they’re going up against all of these state and federal regulations, they know all of these ways to maneuver out of what we know to be damaging to the environment.”
In the meantime, as Transco/Williams continues submitting further information, the next step for the project depends on the Environmental Impact Statement drafted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). This document - which was originally scheduled for release on September 17th but has been pushed back until early 2019 - will determine whether or not the project moves forward.
The agency is compiled of four commissioners – three of whom who have been appointed by President Donald Trump.
“The federal and state agencies, they’re just asking for more information,” said Barbara Cuthbert. “Whenever we submit an environmental concern, it appears as though they’re taking some of it seriously, but we have no doubt that they’re going to get their permit or their certificate in the end. They always do. But the more we delay, hopefully the more we can learn about it.”
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