Environmentalists say pipeline company using scare tactics to chill opposition in N.J.

A private company seeking to build a pipeline carrying crude oil from Albany, NY, to Linden, N.J, is threatening homeowners that their property might be acquired via eminent domain unless they allow its inspectors access to their land, according to environmentalists.

The Eastern Environmental Law Clinic, representing the New Jersey Sierra Club, sent a letter to the law firm representing the company, Pilgrim Pipelines Holding LLC, saying the assertions are factually wrong and to desist from making the claims.

“The goals of these wrongful legal and factual claims are to falsely induce homeowners to sign away their property rights and chill the opposition to the Pilgrim Pipeline,” wrote Aaron Kleinbaum, an attorney for the clinic in a letter to DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick & Cole, LLP.

Pilgrim is seeking to build a 178-mile underground pipeline, largely located along existing rights-of-way, although the precise route has yet to be determined. The company says the pipeline would be a vastly safer than shipping petroleum products on the Hudson River to refineries in New Jersey and elsewhere.

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But construction of new pipelines and transmission lines has emerged as an increasingly divisive issue in the state, in part because many of the projects traverse sensitive environmental lands preserved with taxpayers’ dollars.

The Pilgrim pipeline could cross three rivers in New Jersey, all of which supply drinking water to residents and businesses, according to Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

In a statement issued by Pilgrim, the company disagreed with the clinic’s analysis and characterization of the actions of their land-survey agents.

“This letter is nothing more than a PR stunt by the Sierra Club,” said George Bochis, a vice president at Pilgrim. “We are confident in our ability to acquire the land to undertake this project.”

Previously, the company had argued that the spill risk for barges is almost seven times greater than that of pipelines. If the project is approved, it would remove 1,000 barges from the Hudson River each year.

The DeCotiis law firm, one of the most politically connected in the state, did not respond to a request for comments.

According to Kleinbaum, Pilgrim’s assertions it has the power to condemn property and acquire its use has no basis in law, at least not yet.

Only public utilities have the right to eminent domain and Pilgrim is not one, he argued. Nor has Pilgrim shown that property is necessary for a “public use,” he said. In any case, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities must have a hearing before allowing that condemnation is in the public interest. No such hearing has been held by the agency.

“They (Pilgrim) are deliberately misrepresenting the facts and the law,” Titttel said. “They do not have the right to come on your property. They do not have the right of eminent domain, and they not have a right to threaten people and property owners. This is an outrageous form of intimidation and harassment.”

As a general overview, the project is opposed by environmentalists because it would promote more use of fossil fuels that contribute to global climate change; it would potentially impact the drinking water supplies of up to two million people; and it would lead to an ugly scar across many environmental areas, said Tittel.


NJ Spotlight, an independent online news service on issues critical to New Jersey, makes its in-depth reporting available to NewsWorks.

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