Several Lower Saucon Township landowners whose properties would be bisected by the proposed 108-mile PennEast natural gas pipeline voiced opposition to the project before township council Wednesday night, prompting council to discuss the possible adoption of a resolution formally opposing the pipeline.
If adopted, Lower Saucon Township would join several other local municipalities–including Moore Township in Northampton County and Riegelsville borough in Bucks County–in opposing the interstate pipeline that would be built between the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale region in Luzerne County and Mercer County, New Jersey.
Councilman Dave Willard noted, however, that most applications for similar pipeline projects that go before the Federal Engery Regulatory Commission (FERC) are ultimately approved.
The only cases in which they are not approved typically involve “overwhelming” local opposition that prompts the pipeline companies to withdraw their applications, he said.
Kathy Pichel-McGovern, whose property is located on Lower Saucon Road, was the most vocal resident at Wednesday’s meeting, and criticized the project for several reasons.
“This pipeline’s going to encompass my entire farm,” she said.
Pichel-McGovern said she is worried about the possible effects of the underground pipeline on her farm’s productivity, even though crops could be planted on top of it.
“The heat that comes off the pipe from a billion (cubic) feet of gas a day that goes through this thing…makes the soil on top of it arid and not useful for tillable land,” she told council.
Documentation of that type of damage was highlighted by a West Amwell Township, New Jersey farmer in an article published by the Huffington Post last month.
Another concern Pichel-McGovern has, she said, is safety.
“They’re going to check (the pipeline’s) safety once a year. That doesn’t make me comfortable,” she said. “The pipeline’s right to next to my home.”
Additionally, she said, “I have to worry about my property value.”
Resident Mike Kiefer, also of Lower Saucon Road, pointed out to council that Pichel-McGovern potentially has more than anyone else in the township to gain economically from the pipeline, since she would be compensated for her land that’s in use. He said the fact that she opposes it speaks volumes.
Kiefer said much of his land–which he uses to plant trees for his nursery business–will become “completely useless” since trees and other deep-rooted plants cannot be planted near the underground pipeline.
If the pipeline goes through, “I can’t expand my business… I no longer have an interest to stay in Lower Saucon,” he said.
The township itself won’t receive any compensation from PennEast for portions of the pipeline that would be built across public land because Pennsylvania law doesn’t allow for that, council president Ron Horiszny said.
“I don’t see any benefit (from the pipeline) to the residents of Lower Saucon,” councilman Dave Willard said.
He also called the proposed “Hellertown lateral” line that would extend more than two miles from the main pipeline in northeastern Lower Saucon Township to a substation along Easton Road a “PR ploy” by PennEast, since it was announced just two days before company officials were scheduled to meet with township officials in November.
“This lateral that they were proposing–they had one planned user, which is Calpine,” said council vice president Tom Maxfield. Calpine is a company that operates a power plant on Applebutter Road in Bethlehem.
In spite of being a member of the PennEast consortium, “UGI is not interested (in the lateral),” Maxfield pointed out. “(And PennEast was) very unclear as to who else would be using it.”
Pichel-McGovern asked council members if they knew why the reported diameter of the proposed lateral pipeline in the Express-Times last month was 10 inches one day, and 24 inches the next day.
“The only statement they gave was Calpine uses lots and lots of gas,” responded Maxfield. “That was all they said.”
Township manager Jack Cahalan said that during the closed-door meeting with PennEast the issue of whether consumers will see any advantages from the construction of the pipeline was raised, and “they indicated here, not right away.”
Another question that was asked was about whether any of the gas being piped is intended for export to other countries.
“They said none of this gas is intended to be exported,” council president Ron Horiszny said. That answer elicited laughter from several members of the audience.
Pichel-McGovern said that once the gas reaches the terminus of the PennEast pipeline at the Transco interconnection near Trenton, N.J., it could be transported elsewhere and exported from there; a statement council members did not dispute.
Maxfield said PennEast told township officials 80 percent of the gas would be for domestic use, and that “they said they had multiple users in southern Jersey.”
After discussing the pipeline and hearing from the residents for nearly an hour, council ultimately voted 4-0 to research passage of a resolution opposing the pipeline.
That resolution could be voted upon as early as Dec. 17, when Lower Saucon Township Council will hold its final meeting of 2014 at 7 p.m.