By Jay Cook |
HOLMDEL – It’s been over two years since New Jersey Natural Gas first proposed building a gas regulator station along Holmdel Road.
After riling up nearby residents and being denied by the township later that year, the utility company’s application is back. Except this time, NJNG is looking at a neighboring parcel.
A large application to the Holmdel Zoning Board of Adjustment with date stamps back to December 2017 details New Jersey Natural Gas’ (NJNG) plan to build a three-stack, 15-foot-tall regulator station at 960 Holmdel Road. That address houses the Holmdel Executive Center, comprised of two, two-story commercial buildings constructed in the early 1980s.
That proposal is set to be heard before the Zoning Board of Adjustment for the first time on April 11. A tentative hearing before the township’s Environmental Commission is also planned for April 25.
The regulator station is designed to depressurize gas by about 600 pounds-per-square-inch (psig) as it travels from underground transmission lines along Holmdel Road into the local distribution systems throughout Holmdel and other communities. An associated above ground heater will warm the natural gas during that process to stop it from freezing during winter months.
The project, though, has a history in Holmdel and has been met with resistance every step of the way.
NJNG spent 10 months before the township zoning board in 2016 petitioning to place the same exact regulator station at 970 Holmdel Road, also the home to the Cornerstone Power Holmdel solar farm. The proposal was eventually denied by six of the seven members on the board.
Residents along the corridor cited air pollution, environmental disturbances to nearby waterways and the property being, as a whole, unfit for that use as the key opposing issues.
The utility company came back a few months later in March with a petition to the state Board of Public Utilities to override Holmdel’s decision. The township engaged in litigation during that petitioning process and a public hearing with Holmdel residents was held in June 2017.
For now, the 970 Holmdel Road application has been placed on an “inactive” status, Holmdel Township attorney Michael Collins said.
At that June public hearing, a few dozen residents testified before an administrative law judge. One of those residents was Kim Weigand Casola, the neighbor across the street at 939 Holmdel Road.
With her husband Antonio, Weigand Casola owns 94 acres of preserved farmland along Holmdel Road. Much of that property is used to support her small business, Fox Hollow Vineyards, a local winery open on weekends, where they grow grapes on the property. Weigand Casola also lives in an 18th century house on the land.
And with this newer proposal, she’s even more spooked than before.
“This is not the right area,” Weigand Casola said this week. “It sets a very dangerous precedent by allowing these variances for allowing any type of industrialization here. We will lose the last little bit Holmdel that’s left.”
Some consider this office park section part of the historic Village section of Holmdel due to its proximity to the Main Street intersection.
Weigand Casola filed for and was approved for intervenor status in the litigation against the 970 Holmdel Road application due to the impact it would have both on Holmdel and her business.
She is also concerned about what emissions the regulator station would release into the air and the impact it could have on her crop.
“Grapes are extremely permeable,” Weigand Casola continued. “What guarantee do I have that these emissions aren’t going permeate into and alter the taste of my grapes, ruin my wine or kill my vines?”
Michael Kinney, a spokesperson for NJNG, said the utility company is proposing to develop a section at 960 Holmdel Road because the township’s zoning board suggested that location during the 2016 hearings.
A permanent regulator station will “ensure safe, reliable service to our customers in Holmdel and the surrounding communities.”
The Project’s Specs
960 Holmdel Road is a 16.8-acre property located on the southbound side of Holmdel Road. In addition to the two buildings at the office park, a cellular tower is also located in the far northwest corner. Holmdel Venture, LLC., the property owner, granted a 40-by-150-foot property easement – about 0.3 acres – to NJNG for the project.
The regulator station is designed to be placed 186.4 feet away from Holmdel Road, where Holmdel ordinances require at least a 400-foot setback from any public roadway. The equipment is also 266.4 feet away from the nearest residential zone across the street, where a minimum setback of 600 feet is required. It would be located next to a front yard parking lot and only 37 feet away from the Cornerstone Power Holmdel property line.
NJNG proposes to build a 12-foot-tall chain-link fence along the front and an 8-foot-high chain-link fence around the remainder of the project area. An additional 8-foot-tall sound wall around the regulator station is proposed, as well. Trees and a berm will be implemented so it will be “obscured from all perspectives” along Holmdel Road, the application read.
An environmental study submitted by NJNG details the nearest waterway, parts of the Swimming River Watershed, to be over 500 feet away from the project boundary and of no concern.
The utility company also states the primary source of air pollution from the regulator station will be from “source emissions” attributed to motor vehicles entering the property for maintenance twice a year. The site will be operated remotely from Wall Township.
This article was first published in the March 29-April 5, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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