WCAS strongly disagrees PennEast pipeline will have an insignificant effect

PennEast would side slope Baldpate lengthwise towards summit almost 200' into interior forest © Fairfax Hutter

Washington Crossing Audubon Society strongly disagrees that the proposed PennEast pipeline will have an insignificant effect on the Baldpate Mountain IBA.

Baldpate is highly vulnerable to disturbance because it is at the lower size limit for interior forest habitat and its long narrow shape makes it highly vulnerable to edge effects. High quality habitat is limited to mature Spicebush dominated thickets within the interior forest.   This habitat is where the species of conservation concern are concentrated, especially Hooded, Kentucky, and Worm-eating Warblers, which require an understory dominated by native plants for breeding.   There are four areas where the Spicebush understory is extensive enough have multiple breeding pairs of Hooded Warblers. These Spicebush thickets are located on or adjacent to slopes, covering only part of Baldpate, reducing the area suitable for the ground or shrub layer breeding birds that require a mature native understory within a closed canopy forest for nesting. This habitat is limited, already in use, and irreplaceable. PennEast’s claim that there are an “abundance of available alternative resources” does not hold up under examination.

The proposed pipeline would parallel the existing power line ROW on the north slope of Baldpate. It is not co-located within the cleared ROW and would extend the clear cut areas into the forest on the side that contains the highest quality habitat. Edge effects would extend 300′ from the edge of the new cut, changing one area of high quality interior forest to edge habitat and moving the edge closer to the other high quality Spicebush thickets. This would increase the vulnerability of the breeding birds to nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds and nest predation by a variety of predators that have highest concentrations on edges, reducing breeding success. The birds cannot move further into the interior because the suitable breeding territories are already taken. Baldpate is surrounded by degraded, unsuitable habitats, stripped of understory by the over abundant White-tailed deer and dominated by invasive species where there is an understory. The nearest high quality habitat in the Sourlands is already utilized by breeding birds. There is no “abundance of available alternative resources”.

PennEast cannot “establish habitats with native cover that are beneficial to recognized bird species within the IBAs” for the interior forest nesting species, the rarest and most vulnerable species at Baldpate, including NJ species of conservation concern Cerulean Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Veery, and Wood Thrush. Interior forest on thin diabase soil requires over a hundred years to regenerate.   Spicebush thickets require decades to mature, assuming protection from White-tailed deer. This habitat is not replaceable in a time frame of significance to breeding birds that measure their breeding years in less than a decade.

PennEast consistently understates the impact of the proposed pipeline on Baldpate Mountain, the most fragile of the IBA’s impacted by the pipeline. The small size and long narrow shape of Baldpate make it extremely vulnerable to any disturbance, especially one that removes a strip of forest along one long edge. Baldpate Mountain supports an amazing number of birds and bird species for a small area, giving it the highest documented concentration of nesting Neotropical migrants in New Jersey but Baldpate is fragile and highly susceptible to piecemeal degradation. Please help us protect this irreplaceable preserve by rejecting the proposed PennEast pipeline route through Baldpate Mountain.

PennEast asserted ZERO INDIRECT IMPACTS to Baldpate’s narrow interior forest from blasting and clearing their construction ROW

PennEast claims impacts would be minimized wherever they are “collocating” yet in the above photo they would be wholly outside of JCP&L’s cleared ROW by about 35′. In their Response to November 7, 2016 Environmental Information Request PennEast further asserted: If a project is collocated with existing ROWs, it is not considered to have an impact to interior forest where FERC defined interior forest as 300’ from forest edge. PennEast tallied and mapped ZERO indirect impacts from construction ROW to Baldpate’s narrow interior forest. Yet by moving the forest edge 200′ deeper towards its core, Baldpate would lose 200′ from its vital 300′ interior forest buffer.

From pages 171–457 PennEast failed to map ANY interior forest impacts wherever ‘collocating’ in uncleared forests from PA to NJ including 150′ deep into Poconos’ vast State Gamelands and Hickory Run State Park IBA to miles of Hunterdon woodlands. There would be real, tangible impacts throughout those lands.

Leslie Sauer’s—author of “The Once and Future Forest: A Guide To Forest Restoration Strategies” 
Comment to FERC on the DEIS:

“The DEIS ignores soil impacts that inhibit native revegetation and reduce infiltration. The DEIS claims that “Implementation of PennEast’s E&SCP & FERC’s Plan and Procedures …would adequately avoid, minimize, or mitigate construction impacts on soil resources.” This is completely untrue based on the performance of seeding and planting on other ROWs after recent pipeline construction using similar BMP’s.

For natural areas PennEast proposes very standard seeding and mulching to allow “for establishment of a vegetative groundcover and percolation of precipitation into the shallow groundwater”. The “areas temporarily disturbed during construction would be reseeded….and allowed to revegetate to preconstruction cover types.” They also propose to plant many trees to replace those lost on parklands. The same claims are made on all pipeline applications.

Dr. Emile DeVito and I made a site visit on August 18, 2016 to the Tennessee Gas ROW where it crosses Canistear, Clinton Road and Union Valley Roads to access revegetation efforts. All three sites showed signs of severe erosion in the past. What remains is a highly mineral soil with no organic matter. The ROW is dominated by mugwort and other invasive species. Enough of the planted, and replanted, trees have survived to meet requirements but are totally underlain by invasives. No native regeneration is occurring. Many areas are excessively compact. Prospects for native recovery are low wherever the pipeline is colocated with other ROWs with invasives from the current corridor simply expand into the new one.

The DEIS acknowledges that about 67% of the ROW has soils with poor revegetation potential and 38% is highly erodible. The DEIS also states that 723 acres will be temporarily impacted by construction. The truth is that most of them will be permanently impacted. This is not acknowledged or quantified by the DEIS as required.

The DEIS admits that “Heavy equipment operating during construction could result in soil compaction or rutting that would alter natural hydrologic and soil conditions, potentially inhibiting germination of native seeds and the ability of plants to establish healthy root systems.” This problem is obvious on the Tennessee Gas pipeline ROW where the lowland forest has been replaced by giant reed and Japanese bamboo, both still expanding. No quantification or mitigation is mentioned in the DEIS.

Tetra Tech, the firm that prepared this DEIS, is well aware of the restoration problems in this area.They were hired to evaluate the revegetation on the Tennessee Gas line in the Highlands. Of the 80 sites checked, 34 were problem areas. Only 32% of the wetlands restorations were successful. They found proliferating invasives and uncontrolled ORV use. How will the PennEast outcomes be different and why? As usual PE claims they will use FERc’s Upland Erosion Control, Revegetation and Maintenance Plan and Wetland and Waterbody Construction and Mitigation Procedures as if that guarantees success. PennEast also states they will work with the appropriate agencies despite many examples that this is not sufficient to return construction ROWs to their pre-construction vegetation. Natural areas are especially damaged wherever native habitats are replaced by invasive species that may persist for decades.

Will the over 400 acres of ATWS that are outside the permanent ROW be managed at all? Will herbicides be used heavily in an effort to manage them? They are still unlikely to regenerate native forest. Their impact is a permanent loss of forest, not just a long-term temporary impact.

“PennEast would minimize soil compaction and rutting, erosion, impacts on prime farmland and drainage tiles and increase revegetation potential by following its E&SCP and Wetland and Waterbody Construction and Mitigation Procedures”. These protections, however, are limited to agricultural and residential lands. The DEIS also notes about 52 acres with high compaction potential, completely disregarding compaction impacts to other forest communities. All soils in natural areas with native plants merit compaction protection using mats, wood chips, subsoil etc. that conserve the existing vegetation propagules and soil food webs.

The DEIS also admits to serious impacts to watersheds due to post construction soil compaction. The DEIS states “Grading, spoil storage, and equipment traffic may compact soil, reducing porosity and increasing runoff potential.” It is especially important to identify and quantify these impacts as required because most of them are avoidable and this should create pressure to use alternate construction techniques. Instead successful alternatives are not even considered in this DEIS.

Narrower ROWs have been used throughout NJ to install pipelines as large or larger than PE… The 42 inch Algonquin pipeline installed in Loantaka Park in Morris County required only 35’ for most of the ROW. In addition all soils were protected from compaction, not just wetland soils. Wood chips from tree clearing, subsoil and mats were used to prevent permanent compaction damage and to protect the vegetative propagules remaining in the undisturbed surface soil. A similar method was used to install the the Columbia Pipeline on steep slopes in the Musconetcong. Tree clearance could be reduced by 60 % and soil disturbance by 90& or more using alternative construction techniques.

These demonstrated alternatives were ignored. PennEast will claim the expense is too great, with no justification at all. It’s not true. And it is not the public’s responsibility to make construction extra cheap for PennEast by absorbing their costs. The absurdly wide ROWs PennEast wants suggest a sloppy, poorly supervised work site with no care taken to avoid environmental damage.”

Top left and above: PennEast would “side slope” their 2.7 mile Baldpate crossing by placing their ~150′ wide construction ROW upslope and left of JCP&L, nearly 200′ closer to ridge summit and forest core. “Side sloping” requires removal of entire slopes to create a level construction ROW. Williams Pipeline company states: “Side slope construction introduces more hazardous working and operating conditions, as well as the potential for severe erosion and landslide potential. It also increases the amount of required work space from 110-feet to 150-feet.”—http://constitutionpipeline.com/faq/.

Above and below: Williams Transco Leidy construction on Princeton Ridge in June 2015 with piles of removed rock. Transco used a much narrower Construction ROW (~40-70′) than the often 150’+ wide ROW that PennEast proposes on Baldpate Mountain. As Leslie Sauer Jones notes:Narrower ROWs have been used throughout NJ to install pipelines as large or larger than PE… 42 inch Algonquin pipeline installed in Loantaka Park in Morris County required only 35’ for most of the ROW.”

Photos © photographer.

Above: “Horizontal Directional Drilling” (HDD) is proposed for lower flanks of Baldpate in the Pleasant Valley Historic District adjacent to site of the former Phillips Grist Mill millpond. Noisy HDD is prone to mud blowouts and failure. “Typical HDD” site photo from this PennEast presentation on HDD to NJ DEP. HDD Trenchless Crossings 20160831-5283(31657246)

Hot running natural gas pipelines melt snow and heat up formerly cool soils. Photo courtesy David Juall.

PennEast would also cross many historic sites including the former Phillips Gristmill upper mill pond on Baldpate. The mill pond was fed by headwater streams draining Baldpate that now support breeding Louisiana Waterthrush. The Mill was thought to have been originally established sometime between the late 1730s and circa 1770. The land is in the Pleasant Valley Historic District listed in the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places.

Base map courtesy Hunter Research from Archaeological explorations: Phillips Gristmill Site, Howell living history Farm Hopewell Township, Mercer County, New Jersey prepared for Mercer County Park Commission, The Friends of Howell Living History Farm, New Jersey Historical Commission prepared by James S. Lee and Richard W. Hunter, November 2012.