A timeline just released by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) sets back the possible FERC approval of the PennEast pipeline by at least seven months, according to Tom Gilbert, campaign director, ReThink Energy NJ and New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
FERC's timeline indicates that a final Environmental Impact Statement will be completed by December 2016, with a final decision by March 2017. But PennEast's application to FERC requested a final decision by August 2016.
"Clearly, PennEast's lack of responsiveness to FERC's request for critical information has caused the project to be significantly delayed," Gilbert said. "We are renewing our call to FERC to protect the integrity of its review process and the public interest by not allowing this incomplete and grossly inaccurate application to proceed."
The latest submission by PennEast on March 25, which was filed more than a month late, is again missing answers to questions and important details requested by FERC as far back as last Nov. 24, and more recently reiterated on Feb. 10. Instead, PennEast provided numerous inadequate responses or merely indicated that it would submit information when it “becomes available.”
Separately, a spokesperson for HALT PennEast, comprising Hunterdon and Mercer County homeowners, expressed outrage that eminent domain could be used to build the 114-mile pipeline, which is proposed to cut through more than 300 properties in New Jersey after it crosses over from Pennsylvania.
"We are extremely concerned about the possibility of losing our property through eminent domain to a project that is unneeded and so harmful," said Vince DiBianca, a resident of Delaware Township and organizer of HALT PennEast (Homeowners Against Land Taking). "It's an outrage to think this threat exists when PennEast, time and again, fails to provide critical information requested to back up its proposal, or to demonstrate public need."
Much of the information about the PennEast pipeline project remains missing, Gilbert pointed out, including:
- The specific location or identification of the number of drinking water wells that might be impacted
- Identification of bedrock areas with known elevations of arsenic in groundwater, and monitoring and mitigation measures needed during construction
- A Phase II site evaluation report for New Jersey and Pennsylvania properties that are eligible or potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places
- Alternatives analyses on 22 parcels of preserved open space subject to Green Acres review; PennEast has also not provided an impact analysis for each of these parcels or provided an engineering study for an alternative route proposed by the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust to avoid the Gravel Hill Preserve
- Detailed site-specific plans for stream crossings, including 49 C-1 stream crossings
- Detailed contingency plans should specific crossing measures prove infeasible after thorough geological site-specific analysis
- Site-specific wetland restoration or mitigation plans and riparian area restoration plans.
"The proposed PennEast pipeline would threaten thousands of acres of taxpayer-supported preserved open space, some of the cleanest streams in the state, and the source of drinking water for 1.5 million New Jerseyans,” Gilbert added. “FERC must demand that PennEast provide required data concerning the impacts to these public resources before this application can be evaluated. Without these data, FERC cannot do its job."
Earlier this year, Congressman Leonard Lance (R-7), Congresswoman Bonnie Watson (D-12), Senator Kip Bateman (R-16), and Assemblywoman Elizabeth Maher Muoio (D-15) joined New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the Stonybrook Millstone Watershed Association in calling on FERC to suspend review of the PennEast application due to PennEast's failure to provide FERC with missing information.
The NJDEP State Historic Preservation Office filed comments this week, noting that only 32% of the proposed route has been surveyed due to lack of landowner permission, and asserted that it is not possible to evaluate historic and archeological resources with such limited data.
"Given PennEast's poor track record to date, and the intense opposition to this project, further delays are likely and could ultimately sink the project," Gilbert said.