local governments are spending a ton of money on lawyers, so they need to make it look like they’re doing something – that’s truly a shame, especially at this critical time when they should be drafting their briefs to OAL to challenge the DEP permits. The clock is ticking on those appeal deadlines!!!
Yesterday (3/27/17) Williams Transco, the Oklahoma based gas company building the Garden State Expansion Project, a compressor station and NJ Natural Gas Southern Reliability link pipeline, started off construction on the wrong foot.
They ran into aggressive residents and opponents and made huge PR gaffs and regulatory compliance mistakes.
I got a request from Agnes Marsala of People Over Pipeline to come to the site – arrived just before 10, no one was there at the time (was later told that folks were there at 6:30 am!, including bird experts.)Except 2 lame Williams security goons, who tried to run me off:
It was raining hard and muddy, so I immediately noticed lack of compliance with soil erosion and sediment control and DEP permit requirements. Spoke with Williams’ Chief Inspector on the site Roger Salmi (cell: 612-518-0983). He stonewalled and told me to call press officer Christopher Stockton (713-215-2010 (W) 713-562-2939 (cell). Salmi’s assistant later told me that he would install required stone and other soil erosion control measures before heavy equipment is brought on site.
So I contacted Burlington County SCS (609-267-7410) and the DEP Hotline (1-877-WARN DEP) to report violations. A Burclo inspector later went to the site – I was told that he warned Williams but did not issue violations. It will probably take a week for DEP to get someone off their ass and out of Trenton.
Later spoke with Williams lawyer on site (a Jersey girl, she claims) and advised her that site was not in compliance. Shorlty thereafter, Williams’ broke out a broom to sweep up the mud they were tracking off site! The man with the broom yelled at me that I didn’t have his permission to photograph! Take a look! Hahahaha!
If Williams can’t comply and get the easy stuff right, that does not inspire confidence that they will do the important stuff right – the same goes for the government oversight efforts. Williams needs to be told – at the outset – that this is not Texas or Oklahoma, arrogance is not acceptable to the community, and that they will be strictly regulated and monitored.
Cars parked on site had out of state plates – except for the Jersey girl attorney.
Since no construction was going on, I guess they wanted to let their FERC flag fly and make it clear that these are the crew our local pipe fitters and NJ laborers will be working for.
Shortly after 10, a few more POP member arrived to observe – I told one woman that the parked cars and trucks were violating NJ’s idling law and she called the Chesterfield Police to report that violation – Chesterfield cops arrived and gave them a warning:
Later, Chesterfield Councilwoman Rita Romeau and Patti Cronheim of Rethink Energy NJ arrived and were ebullient.
They gave conflicting stories about birds.
The initial story I got from Rita R. was that a stay was issued (presumably by a court). Then I heard that NJ DEP Division of Fish and Wildlife issued a stop work.
Then Patti Cronheim from Rethink NJ arrived and told folks that bird experts had discovered habitat for owl or raptors (unclear what species and if this was done on Friday or this morning) and conveyed that info to US Fish and Wildlife Service. According to Patti, USFWS then got Transco to agree to a voluntary stop work and agreement to conduct a bird breeding survey.
I found this all very hard to believe – and requested but was not provided any documentation so I could write about it. That failure to provide even an email about what was going on only heightened my skepticism.
Well today, Dave Levinsky writes “the story” (I put “story in quotes for a reason) in the Burlington County Times:
Although Oklahoma-based utility company Williams Transco has received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to begin work at the site of the proposed compressor station off Bordentown-Chesterfield Road, the possible presence of nesting and courting Cooper’s hawks, screech owls, red-tailed hawks and other migratory songbirds may cause a delay.
Both Chesterfield and Bordentown Township have asked the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the FERC to order a stay on any work at the site, including tree clearing, until a survey is completed to determine if nesting birds are present.
Williams Transco spokesman Christopher Stockton said the company was aware of the towns’ claims and taking steps to re-survey the site before clearing any trees.
“We have not started any tree clearing yet. At this point, we are still moving construction equipment at the site,” he said in an email. “We do plan to re-survey the area prior to any tree removal.”
If birds are present, it could create more delays for the compressor station project, called the Garden State Expansion, which has dragged on for the better part of two years.
Like I said in the sub-headline: that’s a real Hail Mary. A lot ditch effort to block construction based on birds also tends, politically, to undermine the credibility of the POP and other pipeline opponents who are focused on air, water and safety issues, by opening them up to longstanding stereotyped criticism of environmentalists: that they about caring more for critters than people and jobs – or more legitimate criticism that they are not focused on real community safety and environmental issues.
But this is not some hopeful last minute effort – something insidious is going on.
This is just the latest episode in the pattern of tactics by Rethink Energy NJ. Rethink is heavily invested in the FERC process and they have repeatedly engaged in diversions and sought to change the issue. Their diversions have consistently undermined the efforts of the local group People Over Pipelines.
The diversions consistently seek to shift the focus from NJ DEP and water resource regulatory issues to FERC, local or county governments, and FERC issues related to economics and private property rights.
Rethink wants to change the issue and divert focus for at least three reasons:
1) they praise DEP, they keep their powder dry, and they seek to shield DEP from criticism, under the false assumption that an “inside” friendly game with DEP will result in DEP denying permits on their priority project, the PennEast pipeline. They also fear retaliation from Gov. Christie or DEP Commissioner Martin, who they need as friends to secure funding for land preservation deals (the primary organizational mission of NJCF, the parent of Rethink);
2) the don’t want their members and the public to understand that their almost exclusive FERC strategy is mis-targeted, fatally flawed, and can not win.
3) The don’t want aggressive local activist groups and radicals to control the strategy, tactics and message and thus gain political power and resources.
In fact, Rethink was created and funded by corporate and foundation money as the politically safe alternative that would not make waves or threaten powerful economic interests, or step on corporate or political toes. Rethink has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ineffective corporate PR, economic studies, and FERC NEPA intervention, while virtually ignoring NJ DEP and State regulatory issues.
In the end, from the corporate perspective, Rethink is the “reasonable” environmental group that will compromise and cut the deal in the end – all while undermining and keeping the radicals from gaining media attention or real political power. This is the way corporations like PSEG do their work in NJ.
Given prior deals, my sense is I that a deal would be likely to include: 1) small changes in the pipeline route to avoid preserved lands lands owned by NJCF or by Rethink’s wealthy elite members; 2) land donations as mitigation; and 3) “mitigation” funding to ReThink and fellow conservation groups.
Thankfully, Dave Levinsky is a very good reporter and can sense this dynamic – If not to divert attention from DEP and FERC rubber stamps, why else would Tom Gilbert of Rethink suddenly parachute into Chesterfield, just in the wake of DEP and FERC final approvals?
Here how Levinsky subtly alludes to that:
The compressor station and pipeline have received approvals from the FERC, which oversees infrastructure related to interstate pipelines, and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, which oversees intrastate pipelines. The DEP recently issued required water permits for the station and pipeline.
Having almost exclusively focused on FERC and not even tried to hold DEP accountable, of course Gilbert and the Rethink crew want to try a Hail Mary on an esoteric bird issue.
We’ll keep you posted – but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting from any bird issue to block construction.
End Note: And local governments are spending a ton of money on lawyers, so they need to make it look like they’re doing something – that’s truly a shame, especially at this critical time when they should be drafting their briefs to OAL to challenge the DEP permits. The clock is ticking on those appeal deadlines!!!