Gas pipeline left a barren swath through parks and forests of North Jersey

Gas pipeline left a barren swath through parks and forests of North Jersey

Source:, March 3, 2014
By: James M. O’Neill, The Record

A $400 million gas pipeline that cuts through parks and forests in North Jersey — and which sparked lawsuits and protests — was quietly completed on schedule in November and is now in operation.

But the construction left a barren swath through 7.6 miles in Bergen and Passaic counties and nearly 11 miles in Sussex County, prompting worries about possible erosion and road collapses from snowmelt and spring rains.

“I’m concerned about the amount of erosion into streams and wetlands that could occur — we’re going to have a lot of runoff with all this snow,” said Carl Richko, a member of the New Jersey Highlands Council and former mayor of West Milford.

Diane Wexler, a Vernon resident and co-founder of the advocacy group North Jersey Pipeline Walkers, agreed. “There’s always that concern about erosion because the clear-cuts are often on such steep slopes,” she said. “And the replantings by the company have been nominal. Some of the new trees are 6-inch saplings. It’s nothing but deer candy.”

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s project, called the Northeast Upgrade, added five loops to an existing pipeline in parts of North Jersey and Pennsylvania. The 40 miles of additional pipe will allow the line to transport more natural gas from the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania to the New York market.

The pipeline expansion drew opposition from environmental groups and local residents because it passes through Ringwood State Park and Long Pond Ironworks State Park in West Milford, as well as Ramapo Mountain Reservation in Mahwah. In addition to wide swaths of land that needed to be cleared, the project required drilling beneath the Monksville Reservoir, part of a system that provides drinking water to several million North Jersey residents.

Despite repeated legal filings by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups to block the project, federal regulators approved the pipeline expansion in January 2013. By the next month contractors had started to cut down trees in Ringwood State Park to allow room for pipeline construction vehicles.

Work proceeded throughout 2013, and by September drilling had begun beneath the reservoir. Once the drilling was completed, workers pulled the new pipe through the cut.

The pipeline was completed and became operational Nov. 1 as originally scheduled, said Richard Wheatley, a spokesman for Kinder Morgan Inc., the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s parent.

The project involved permanently removing 16 acres of forest in the Highlands watershed, and the temporary removal of another 86 acres of forest during construction. The company is required to replace those trees by planting new vegetation to preserve habitat and reduce the possibility of erosion.

“Re-vegetation continues to progress adequately,” the pipeline company reported in its most recent status report, filed in February with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

But in January, a 10-by-8-foot area of fill material over the recently installed pipeline eroded in Wantage, causing a portion of Ashworth Lane to collapse near High Point State Park.

The company brought in a contractor to complete emergency repairs. Permanent repairs will be made in the spring.

“We are continuing to monitor the recently completed Northeast Upgrade pipeline installation to correct, backfill or otherwise repair the pipeline, if erosion or other conditions are identified,” Wheatley said in an email.

“At this time, we consider the right-of-way restoration effort successful,” he said. “We have observed minimal excess erosion events. Once snows melt, we will be able to further identify any issues for repairs as appropriate.”

Last July, a 20-foot section of road collapsed in Montague Township as a contractor was drilling beneath River Road during part of the pipeline extension project. Repairs took several weeks.

Last year, the state fined the pipeline company $175,000 for failing to plant enough shrubs and trees to help repair portions of the Bearfort Mountain area in West Milford that had been clear-cut during an earlier pipeline expansion project.

Residents complained that a section of the clear-cut from that project, which ran up steep terrain near Lake Lookover in West Milford, contributed to serious erosion after heavy rains in 2011 and caused the lake to be unusable for much of that summer.

Richko, the former West Milford mayor, worries that a similar scenario could occur from the clear-cut created by the recent Northeast Upgrade project.

“If we get heavy spring rains, we will be in the same situation we had in the past with Lake Lookover, which turned into a mud hole for a while,” he said.

The recent pipeline expansion also drew concern from residents and environmental groups because of the drilling under the Monksville Reservoir, a backup to the Wanaque Reservoir. An environmental advocacy group in Pompton Lakes, Franciscan Response to Fracking, secured a grant to pay for water quality tests of the Monksville Reservoir last June, before the drilling began, providing a baseline to determine whether the drilling or the new pipe affects the reservoir’s water quality.

The group has not yet raised funds to conduct follow-up water tests, said Jackie Schramm, director of social justice ministry at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Pompton Lakes, said.

The North Jersey District Water Supply Commission, which operates both the Monksville and Wanaque reservoirs, conducted its own routine water sampling throughout the pipeline construction and found no changes in water quality outside the normal seasonal variations, said William Maer, the commission’s spokesman.

The commission worked with the pipeline company to move work areas to spots that did not drain directly into the reservoir, and made sure structures were in place to capture any potential leaks of petroleum products in the work areas, Maer said.

“We feel very comfortable with the quality of the water in the reservoir and the science we use to test it,” Maer said.

The gas which flows through the expanded pipeline is removed from deep beneath the surface in Pennsylvania using a controversial process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Water and chemicals are injected into the ground to break up bedrock and release the gas. Some studies indicate the chemicals can contaminate drinking water supplies.

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