PennEast and Open Space

WCAS Comments on PennEast NJDEP Applications

Washington Crossing Audubon Society (WCAS) urges NJDEP to reject the PennEast pipeline application because PennEast has failed to make adequate surveys of the properties and streams affected and has consistently understated the environmental effects that the pipeline would have. FERC’s conclusion that the pipeline would have minimal environmental impact was reached without sufficient data. The environmental impact of the pipeline cannot be accurately assessed without an exhaustive, multiple season study of the flora and fauna along the entire pipeline route which PennEast has failed to do.

The proposed pipeline will cross seven Important Bird Areas (IBA’s). Since WCAS has monitored bird populations and other wildlife at the Baldpate Mountain IBA since 2001, WCAS can document the deficiencies of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) at this location.     The FEIS only mentions Red-shouldered Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Kentucky Warbler, and Wood Thrush as occurring on Baldpate, a very incomplete list of the species of conservation concern present.  Other avian species of conservation concern confirmed breeding on Baldpate are Hooded Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Canada Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Veery, Brown Thrasher, and Yellow-breasted Chat. Four USFWS Trust List species breed on Baldpate: Cerulean Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Prairie Warbler. Louisiana Waterthrush are dependent on the high quality small steams either adjacent to or crossing the PennEast pipeline route. Other species of conservation concern reported during their breeding season on Baldpate are Barred Owl and Red-headed Woodpecker. The NJ threatened Long-eared Owl has a winter roost on Baldpate. The FEIS lists 51 bird species found along the entire pipeline route; eBird lists 172 species for Baldpate alone.

Non-avian species of conservation concern found on Baldpate include Eastern Box Turtle, Northern Copperhead and Fowler’s Toad. Only the Eastern Box Turtle is mentioned in the FEIS as being present on Baldpate. The flora of Baldpate is similarly neglected in the FEIS.

There is no reason to believe that the data submitted for the remaining six IBA’s and other preserved lands is any less deficient than the data submitted for Baldpate. The Musconetcong Gorge and Everittstown Grassland IBA’s contain suitable habitat for grassland birds of conservation concern but have not been thoroughly documented for these species. Since the New Jersey threatened American Kestrel has bred on at least one property crossed by the pipeline, other properties with similar habitat should be searched. The FEIS is too data deficient to predict the effects of the pipeline on these species, making FERC’s conclusion that the PennEast pipeline would have a minimal effect on these species insupportable.

Many of the forty-plus C-1 streams crossed by the pipeline route are suitable habitat for the Louisiana Waterthrush, which has been confirmed as breeding at Baldpate and in the Rock Hopper Preserve of the Sourland Mountains IBA, which is adjacent to the powerline route. Similar habitat in Hunterdon County along the pipeline route needs to be searched for breeding Louisiana Waterthrushes. PennEast’s in-stream protocol, which allows construction to proceed after June 1, is inadequate to protect nesting Louisiana Waterthrushes, whose breeding period extends into June. A complete monthly survey of the stream’s ecosystems would have shown this.

The FEIS states that no surveys are necessary for the New Jersey endangered Bobcat because the habitat is too fragmented for bobcats. Bobcats have been reported at three locations along the pipeline route. The presence of a Bobcat has been confirmed and documented at one of these locations. The location has not been publically announced to protect the Bobcat but a report which includes the location has been filed with the New Jersey DEP non-game Division of Fish and Wildlife. This record challenges the conclusion reached by the FEIS in regard to Bobcats. A thorough search along the pipeline route is needed to determine the vulnerability of this species due to pipeline construction and maintenance.

The data provided by PennEast is totally inadequate to justify the conclusion reached by FERC in the FEIS that the PennEast pipeline would do minimal environmental damage. PennEast has not provided adequate data to access the environmental damage that building and maintaining the PennEast pipeline would entail. NJDEP has stated that it will not consider an application without the required surveys and the resulting data and has consequentially required PennEast to complete the surveys and provide the missing data by June 26 to prevent the application from being closed. Since the required data can only be collected by thorough multiple season searches of all the properties and waters along the route, it is not possible for PennEast to comply with NJDEP’s request. Washington Crossing Audubon Society urges the NJDEP to deny PennEast the permits needed to build the pipeline and reject and administratively close the application.