By Jay Cook |
HOLMDEL – Local residents are turning up the pressure on officials to oppose a natural gas project in a somewhat bucolic section of town.
They question whether a New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) regulator station is necessary and safe for its proposed site at an existing solar field farm along Holmdel Road.
“A beautiful, scenic road, populated by multi-million dollar residential developments, farms, and corporate office campuses is simply the absolute worst location for such an installation,” said Holmdel resident Pradeep Jhanjee.
Last year, the Holmdel Zoning Board of Adjustment held nearly 10 months of meetings and eventually rejected NJNG’s application to con- struct the station.
But the utility petitioned the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) in January for another opinion. On June 8, Judge Elia Pelios of the Office of Administrative Law presided over a public hearing at Holmdel’s community center, at which more than a dozen Holmdel residents echoed Jhanjee’s apprehension about the proposed regulator station, and explained why they thought the plan is detrimental to the Holmdel Village area.
The regulator station is a gas pressure reduction facility aimed to lower the pressure of natural gas from when it exits a transmission line before being transferred to local distribution piping systems. The natural gas transmission line in Holmdel, renovated in 2012, has an operating pressure of 722 pounds per square inch gauge (psig), and needs to be depressurized to 100 psig before reaching homes.
The facility, designed to sit on a 100-foot by 85-foot easement at the Cornerstone Power Holmdel solar farm lot at 970 Holmdel Road (across from Hop Brook Lane) will consist of a filter, natural gas-fueled heater, two regulator runs for reducing pressure, and associated piping.
The regulator would have three stacks, each sitting 15 feet tall. Also included would be 8-feet-tall fencing with privacy slates and a 2.5-feet-high earthen berm installed at the foot of the station.
A temporary regulator station built after that 2012 replacement sits alongside a tree line at the Vonage campus, located about a half mile away.
According to NJNG, the regulator station is vital to the local transmission line’s effectiveness. With the heater system, the natural gas facility would neither freeze nor put customers in a situation to lose service. The utility serves about 523,000 customers in Monmouth and Ocean counties.
“If 50 to 100 houses lost service to a regulator station failure, the restoration process could leave homes without heat for many days,” said Andrew Dembia, the attorney representing NJNG.
NJNG’s proposal has been met with opposition at every step along the way. After filing with the BPU six months ago, the township’s government body joined the litigation opposing the regulator station, and is an intervenor in the evidentiary hearings for the project next month.
“The citizens testified the proposed regulator station is too close to Holmdel Road,” said Holmdel Mayor Gregory Buontempo. “I believe, living in that area, that they are correct.”
That distance from Holmdel Road has spooked residents since the start. According to the petition, a nearly 385-foot buffer is required, yet this plan calls for a buffer slightly less than 90 feet from the roadway.
One of the closest homeowners to the site is Kim Weigand Casola, who said her property is just over 200 feet from the solar farm.
After dropping 305 signed letters of opposition on Judge Elia Pelios’ desk, Weigand Casola raised concerns of what effect the regulator station could have on her farmland property – Fox Hollow Vineyards.
Referencing the wine made from her farm, she said “those grapes are right across the street from where those emission stacks will be putting out fumes 24 hours a day, seven days a week, where we’re not sure what comes out of them.” Weigand Casola was also critical of NJNG’s siting guidelines. According to the petition, the utility looked for space away from residential areas and in places zoned for industrial or commercial uses. “This is one of the last quasi-rural areas left of Holmdel,” Weigand Casola added. “Far from industrial, far from commercial.” Adding to environmental concerns was Carole Balmer, a former deputy mayor in Holmdel, who said the immediate area around the regulator station is strikingly close to one of Monmouth County’s largest water supplies.
“The Swimming River Reservoir is an endangered species,” Balmer said, “and this area means a lot.”
There are also worries about the proximity of fire department service to this area along Holmdel Road.
Up until 2014, Holmdel Fire Company #1 resided at 35 Main St., less than a mile away from the proposed NJNG regulator station.
Now, due to a realignment, service is centered at Holmdel Fire and Rescue Company #2 on Centerville Road Route near 35.
Evelyn Quincannon witnessed her neighbor’s Hop Brook Lane house go up in flames in late 2015. She said she has become increasingly worried about what could now happen at the NJNG facility without a fire station in the immediate vicinity.
“After I saw that fire next door, I can’t imagine a gas fire right at the foot of the street,” Quincannon said.
The homes on Hop Brook Lane are the closest residential development to the Cornerstone solar farm.
Quincannon was concerned about the response times in case of a major emergency, despite one fire truck stationed on the Vonage campus.
About the regulator station, she added, “as far as I’m concerned, that belongs on the New Jersey Turnpike.”
Four days of evidentiary hearings at the Office of Administrative Law are set for July 13 to 17. After that date, Judge Pelios will have 45 days to render an initial decision, which will be forwarded to the BPU for a final decision after another 45 days.
Fearing the worst, residents are hoping Holmdel wins the legal battle.
“This is a disaster waiting to happen,” resident Scott Goldstein said.
This story was originally published in the June 15-22 print edition of The Two River Times.
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