The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection will hold two public hearings next month on a wetlands permit sought by Williams Transco, the Oklahoma utility planning to build the compressor station in Chesterfield, off Route 528 near the New Jersey Turnpike and Chesterfield-Bordentown Township border.
The hearings will be held Oct. 13 and Oct. 17 at the Bordentown Performing Arts Center at Bordentown Regional High School on Ward Avenue in Bordentown Township. Both hearings are scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m.
A public hearing on the company's application was originally scheduled last month at the Ramada Inn on Route 206, but it was postponed after several hundred people showed up, greatly exceeding the hotel ballroom's capacity.
In response, the DEP opted to postpone and reschedule the hearing at a larger location to allow more people to participate.
The department also delayed a separate hearing on a water permit sought by New Jersey Natural Gas for its planned Southern Reliability Link natural gas pipeline from the compressor station through Chesterfield, North Hanover, and several towns in Monmouth and Ocean counties.
The hearing was scheduled for Wednesday at the Ramada Inn, but no new date and location have been announced.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities have already approved construction of the compressor station and pipeline, but those approvals are contingent on the projects obtaining several environmental permits.
Although the station and the pipeline are being built by different companies, both projects are related and intended to enhance the reliability of gas delivery to New Jersey Natural Gas' service territory, which is predominantly in Ocean and Monmouth counties but also includes parts of Morris and Middlesex counties, the Lakehurst side of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, and a small portion of Burlington County in Bass River.
Both projects have drawn opposition from residents and elected officials in Chesterfield, Bordentown Township and North Hanover, who consider them significant safety and pollution risks. Environmental groups have also objected.
Before the Aug. 22 meeting was postponed, opponents of the compressor station vied for seats and space in the ballroom with members of the Laborers International Union of North America, who turned out to support the project and the jobs it will create.
Due to the overcrowding, numerous people were turned away, and when opponents and union members began shouting, DEP officials opted to stop and reschedule the hearing.
Citing the crowds and controversy, Assemblymen Herb Conaway and Troy Singleton, both Democrats representing the 7th Legislative District, wrote a letter to DEP Commissioner Bob Martin requesting that the department consider holding additional hearings to give more people the opportunity to provide input.
"I want to applaud the department for heeding the call of Assemblyman Conaway and myself to provide greater access to the public for the vetting of this project," Singleton said Wednesday. "Increased transparency and scrutiny on the safety, necessity and viability of this project will give the public a greater understanding into the ultimate decision that the Department will make on this project."
The New Jersey Sierra Club also called for more hearings, and its director urged opponents to not waste the opportunity to share their concerns.
“Together, we can stop this pipeline and the compressor station, but we need to come out and tell the DEP to deny the Freshwater Wetlands permit," Jeff Tittel said Wednesday in a statement. "We need to get our testimony on the record, because this permit application is incomplete and does not paint the full picture of the destruction this compressor station would do to surrounding wetlands and waterways. It also does not consider secondary and cumulative impacts from attached infrastructure.
“This project will cause significant pollution, flooding and stormwater runoff, and therefore these permits should be denied. It’s time for the DEP to do their jobs and protect New Jersey’s environment and communities," Tittel said.
Tittel also cheered a separate announcement Wednesday that New Jersey Natural Gas has agreed to accept a smaller rate hike than it originally requested from the BPU. The hike does not cover the projected expense of the pipeline project.