State Assemblyman: Franklin ‘Not Equipped’ To Handle Gas Compressor Disaster

State Assemblyman Joe Danielsen tells representatives from the state DEP that the township is not equipped to handle any disaster that might occur at a proposed natural gas compressor station.

The township is “not equipped” to handle any potential disaster that could occur at a planned gas turbine compressor station targeted for a 52-acre tract in Little Rocky Hill, state environmental officials were told Nov. 5.

That was the word from state Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-17), one of more than 100 people who were scheduled to speak during a Nov. 5 state Department of Environmental Protection public hearing held at Franklin High School.

DEP representatives were on hand to get the public’s comments on a permit application submitted by Houston-based Williams Transco for its $1 billion multi-state Northeast Supply Enhancement Project.

Close to 200 people from the township, South Brunswick and elsewhere, filled the high school’s auditorium to speak on the permit.

The permit Transco wants would allow it to disturb wetlands next to the area in which they plan to build a 32,000-horsepower twin turbine natural gas compressor station. The station – part of a larger pipeline construction plan – would boost the natural gas flow on its way to its destination in New York.

Danielsen, who is also a township fire fighter, told the DEP representatives that Franklin doesn’t have the infrastructure to fight a fire as large as could be caused by the station in that part of town.

“We’re not equipped for this. We don’t have the infrastructure, we don’t have the training,” he said. “You should know one catastrophe, when it does happen, it will be over two-and-a-half hours before a sustainable operation for our first responders gets underway.”

Hearing attendees rallied in the FHS cafeteria prior to the hearing.

“At best there’s a water shuttle, at best you have eight towns that will have to be involved,” he said. “That’s indisputable.”

Contamination from any catastrophe at the the compressor station”will cause potential irreversible damage to our fisheries, wildlife, sediment buildup and plant erosion,” Danielsen said. “The very balance of the waterways’ ecology system could be destroyed in a few short years.”

Mayor Phil Kramer told the representatives that he’s concerned that the project impacts the area wetlands.

“It does not try to avoid the wetlands, and the only alternative path that has been proposed is through a Superfund site,” he said. “So I do not think the application is adequate.”

The DEP has already approved Transco’s permit concerning any air pollutants that may be emitted from the compressor station, but, Kramer noted, clean air standards in the state have become more strict.

“The minimum standards have changed and I understand if a project were already in place and the minimum standards changed, not holding a project too those standards, but the air quality standards have changed and you haven’t completely permitted this project yet.,” he said. “So I think with the new air quality standards, you need to take this back to square one.”

“The pollution from the air will pollute the water, will pollute the wetlands, and eventually Trap Rock is going to be a reservoir and that air pollution is going to go into that reservoir,” Kramer said. “So I ask the DEP to deny this permit, to review the air quality permit and deny that.”

The compressor station is planned to be built near Trap Rock, an active quarry operation.

Township Councilman Ted Chase (D-Ward 1) also expressed his opposition to the permit, and to the project in general.

“In short, if there was a fire at this compressor station, I fear it would set the woods on fire with serious effects downwind from the fire,” he said.

Speaking to the permit application, Chase said there are alternatives to a road Transco wants to build through wetlands.

“Williams Transco has asserted that they should be able to use this route because there’s no other feasible route, there is a feasible route which would not involve wetlands,” Chase said. “They have asserted … another possibility is they could come in from Route 27 along the pipeline right-of-way. This is an option that has never been discussed. I call upon the DEP to deny the permit requested here until all of the possibilities” have been studied.

In the early part of the evening, the only speakers supporting the permit application and the project were representatives of labor unions who see the project as creating jobs for their members.

Michael Makarski, of the Engineers-Labor Employer Cooperative, said the project is the “first step” in creating a “diverse energy portfolio” that will help New Jersey “be more affordable for our current population and more competitive to attract new businesses or residents.”

The project will bring “2,400 new jobs for hard-working men and women in New Jersey, and more than $16 million in state and local tax revenues,” he said. “This type of boost to our state economy is what we need.”

Speaking about teh environmental impact, Makarski said, “Additional clean natural gas transported through this line will displace nearly 15 million barrels of heating oil and reduce Co2 emissions by up to 3 million tons per year.”

Chris Hartman, vice-president of the New Jersey Alliance for Action, said the project “will improve the transmission pipeline  system that transports much of the natural gas in the northereastern part of the United States as our state’s energy needs continue to grow.”

“Natural gas can have trouble reaching our needs in times of high demand, such as the middle of winter,” he said. “Natural gas continues to be a critical part of the mix of energy sources necessary to meet the region’s growing energy needs.”

Ciro Scalera, director of government relations for the New Jersey Laborers Union, said the union “supports an energy policy that relies on a mix of energy resources that meets our needs and are cost-efficient in a safe way. We support Williams’ NESE project. It cannot be underestimated how important continuing capital investment in existing energy infrastructure is and how it will help to ensure availability and stability of supply.”

“This project will provide an enhancement of existing infrastructure,” he said, adding that as renewable sources of energy are brought into the mix “we will need a transition to those resources and we must maintain our existing system such s the NESE system if we’re going to be able to supply New Jersey residences and businesses with the energy they need.”

Township resident Susan London said the project will lead to flooding.

“They are going to be removing forested wetlands and upland forest, and the other problem is the inadequate stormwater management plan,” she said. “They are currently calling for a bio retention basin located on a site where there’s a high water table and the bedrock is too close to the surface.”

“There is a probable overall increase coming to New Jersey in rainfall … so we can expect an increase in the number, duration and ferocity of major rainstorms, on top of the general increase of rain saturating the area,” she said.

Opponents of the project rallied in the FHS cafeteria prior to the hearing.

The DEP is expected to have at least one more public hearing on the permit application, although the location or date has not yet been announced.

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