Residents Want More Information About Williams Transco Gas Pipeline Expansion Project

Residents looked at proposed plans for the Transco pipeline expansion project at an open house a few weeks ago. Local oficials say the documents are not public records.
Residents looked at proposed plans for the Transco pipeline expansion project at an open house a few weeks ago. The Princeton lawyer the documents are not public records.

Residents and environmental activists lined up at the microphone during the Princeton Council meeting Monday night to express their concerns about the Williams Transco gas pipeline expansion project.

Residents have asked to see any documents, maps and other materials filed by Williams Transco with the town of Princeton, but a lawyer for the town said the documents are not public information.

“I’ve been in touch with Transco and the materials filed with the town are not public records,” Princeton Lawyer Ed Schmierer said. “”They said it would be a security problem for them, and we are not authorized to release those materials.”

Planet Princeton filed a request on Tuesday to review all of the documents under the state’s Open Public Records Act.  The town has seven business days to respond to the request.

The Williams Company’s proposed Transco Leidy Southeast Expansion Project would affect Princeton, Montgomery, Branchburg, and Readington. 

The project would affect more than 30 properties along the Great Road in Princeton along the environmentally sensitive Princeton Ridge. About 1.2 miles of pipeline would be built running parallel to the existing pipeline in Princeton and another five miles if pipeline would be expanded in Montgomery.

If the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approves the project,  construction of the new portion of the gas line, called the Skillman Loop, could start in fall of 2014. The Transco pipeline spans 10,200 miles from South Texas to New York City. Another Transco project, the proposed Stanton Loop, would run along about 90 homes in Hunterdon County, including several dozens properties in Clinton and others in Union, Franklin and Readington.

Several residents said they did not know about the gas pipeline expansion project until about a week ago. While about 30 properties along the Princeton Ridge are directly affected by the project, residents said hundreds of other residents will be affected by the project. Residents are concerned about trees, water runoff and other issues.

“I am one property away from one of the easements,” said Ridgeview Road resident Barbara Blumenthal. “I didn’t know about it until about a week ago. Hundreds of residents in the direct vicinity knew nothing about this. If you look at Google Earth, huge amounts of trees will be eliminated. Up north is farmland, but there is no plan to extend it that way. We need to raise questions now. The longer this goes on, the timeline will be firmer. Why are they doing this on the ridge?”

Resident Kip Cherry said she thinks the town has the power to help mitigate the impacts, and should seek standing as an intervenor with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Individuals have the option to intervene in Commission proceedings. Intervenors become participants in a proceeding and have the right to request rehearing of Commission orders and seek relief of final agency actions in the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal.

Cherry also questioned how Transco documents can be secret when they have been presented at public meetings.

Resident Joe Small, a former state judge, criticized the town government’s position on Transco and other issues, saying town officials are not looking out for the interests of ordinary citizens.

“Perhaps we should start all over again. The long line of people here is evidence of the failing confidence in our elected officials. You need to listen, not sit there stone-faced, but carefully listen to what is being said here,” Small said. “You need to speak truth to power whether it is AvalonBay, Transco, Princeton University of the police union. You need to have independent advice from your attorney, not just your attorney quoting what Transco says, when resident Kip Cherry has information showing you that  what Transco says is crap. I’m ashamed and embarrassed that I voted for you all. You do not represent the interests of small people. You represent the interests that have the money, the power, the means. After only three-and-a-half months, you have given up so much good will that came with consolidation.”