NJ homeowners organize to oppose PennEast pipeline

 Vincent DiBianca, a resident of Delaware Township contends that the PennEast pipeline is unnecessary. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Vincent DiBianca, a resident of Delaware Township contends that the PennEast pipeline is unnecessary. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

New Jersey homeowners in Hunterdon and Mercer counties have formed a new group to oppose the proposed PennEast natural gas pipeline, which they say could be built on private property using eminent domain.

HALT PennEast — which stands for “homeowners against land taking” — criticized the PennEast Pipeline Company for proposing a route that would abut or intersect the properties of dozens of New Jersey residents, as well as threatening to use the power of eminent domain to install the underground pipeline.

“This is not just for this group of people,” said Vincent DiBianca, one of the group’s organizers, who lives along the proposed route in Delaware Township. “If this starts to set a precedent, and corporate gain is one of the fundamental principles at play here and people can lose their properties, that’s unconstitutional. It’s certainly not fair and just.”

DiBianca said the proposed route touches about 250 properties in New Jersey and that homeowners are starting to speak out aganist the 118- mile pipeline, which would run from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, to Mercer County, ending near Trenton.

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On its website, PennEast said that federal approval of the pipeline would allow the company “to access property to survey land and to construct and operate infrastructure; however, PennEast considers it a last resort that would be an exhaustive, socially and financially costly process for all involved.”

PennEast said it would rather reach out to homeowners first and offer to pay them for the use of their land.

But for some residents of Hunterdon and Mercer counties, that dog won’t hunt.

“How would we farm?” said Jacqueline Evans, who lives in Delaware Township with her three children, about a hundred feet from the proposed route of the pipeline.

“This pipeline would compromise that. I’m also transitioning into organic, and that would also be compromised.”

Evans said she is also worried about the safety of a natural gas pipeline so close to her kids. “My children are always asking questions about what happens when it blows up, and these are very difficult questions to answer as a mother.”

So far, members of HALT PennEast are only New Jersey homeowners, but DiBianca said he would be open to expanding the group to include Pennsylvanians as well.

HALT PennEast has hired Wiley Rein, a large Washington, D.C., law firm specializing in government regulation.

Right now the PennEast project is under review at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which reviews any proposed pipeline that would cross state lines. FERC could approve or deny the project as soon as this fall.

PennEast said the pipeline would lower energy costs for customers in the area and increase reliability, especially during extreme weather when demand is high.

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