RED BANK —Mayor Pasquale Menna joined state Senator Jennifer Beck (R-11), other local officials and business representatives last Wednesday afternoon at a press conference to voice their opposition to a NJ Natural Gas plan to replace aging equipment, currently installed below grade with above ground in front of buildings in the borough’s downtown business district.
“They have been very heavy-handed and secretive,” Beck said of NJ Natural Gas’s response to local concerns about the plan.
“This is an issue of transparency,” added Menna.
Beck said she planned to introduce legislation that would require the utility to take into account a municipality’s concerns and act responsibly in restoring the sites disrupted by the installations should this work move forward.
What has officials so concerned is a plan by NJNG to remove gas regulators that are currently located below the sidewalks in grate-covered pits across much of the downtown area, and replace them with above ground regulators that stand about a foot off the ground and would create an obstruction in front of many of the commercial structures in the downtown area.
“It’s not a small number,” of locations, Beck said, noting the gas utility plans to install 88 of these above ground equipment units around the downtown.
The borough and the business association have invested considerable money and effort in redeveloping the historic business district. NJNG would have to “rip up our beautiful sidewalks,” Menna complained.
“They will be destroying what has taken 20 years to create,” Menna continued.
In addition to aesthetics, local officials said, the above ground equipment poses a safety hazard and will impede pedestrian access.
This issue first arose last March when NJNG spokesman Michael Kinney said the utility would be replacing gas regulators because of safety considerations.
Regulators are devices that channel high-pressure natural gas, reducing the pressure so it can be more easily utilized, Kinney explained a year ago.
Kathleen Ellis, chief operating officer for NJNG, sent its customers a letter addressed to “Dear Neighbor,” in which she explained that the underground regulators are “prone to corrosion and present a possible safety risk.”
“While some may prefer to keep them below ground, unfortunately, it is not an option,” Ellis’s letter continued.
Beck and Menna countered that in their conversations over the last year with the utility’s representatives, NJNG said it looked at alternatives but rejected them as not feasible. However, the senator and mayor said, the company refused to divulge any information about those other options, or any other information at all.
“It is my suspicion there are plenty of other options,” Beck said, charging the utility “should be more forthcoming.”
NJNG has filed suit against the borough and Red Bank RiverCenter, the borough’s special improvement district.
The suit was filed in response to the borough’s refusal to issue work orders for the replacements.
NJNG’s complaint seeks “an order to show cause for one purpose: to clear the way for it to engage in costly and time consuming work designed not for economic gain, but to eliminate a serious deficiency in its natural gas delivery system that presents an imminent threat of a serious gas leak and thus could result in a catastrophic explosion or fire.”
The company has been meeting with local officials for over a year to discuss various alternatives, Kenney said this week, but the utility determined that moving the regulators above ground is the only viable solution.
Commenting on the suit at a recent borough council meeting, Menna said, “We’ve drawn a line in the gas and we’re not backing down.”
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