The meeting took place at a Ramada Inn, in a conference room having a capacity of 200 people. Approximately 50% was filled by a union, and speculation points to the oil company, Transunion, packing the room in an effort to prevent residents from entering, and to overwhelm genuine comments with “don’t take away my union job” comments. According to Agnes, the oil company is under no obligation for the next decade to pay full union wages, as they were grandfathered in with pay related decision. Some of the union personnel were surprised to learn this. There is also speculation that some union people were paid, and that a list of those attending and not attending was recorded for retaliation purposes.
The parking lot and conference room became so full that police had to intervene and start turning people away. The Ramada Inn reportedly refuses to host related meetings in the future.
According to Agnes, the postponement is a setback for the company, not necessarily a delaying tactic. Filling the room with union people, as well as renting a room that could only fit 200 people, despite that even larger turnout a previous meetings, both backfired.
Here is the original, eye-opening interview I did with People Over Pipelines in April.
An article from the Burlington County Times:
Public hearing on compressor station postponed due to large crowd
By David Levinsky, staff writer; August 22, 2016
BORDENTOWN TOWNSHIP — A public hearing for a controversial natural gas compressor station was postponed Monday evening after hundreds of people showed up to participate, grossly exceeding the capacity of a hotel ballroom where the hearing was scheduled.
The hearing was for a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection wetlands permit sought by Williams Transco, an Oklahoma utility company that is planning to build the compressor station in Chesterfield, off Route 528, near the New Jersey Turnpike and Bordentown Township border, in order to feed a proposed pipeline through northern Burlington, Monmouth and Ocean counties. It was scheduled inside a ballroom at the Ramada Inn on Route 206, which has a capacity to hold 200 people.
More than triple that number turned out, according to some local officials. The crowd filled the parking lot and forced police to close off the ballroom entrance and turn away people at the hotel entrance.
Things became heated after officials tried to start the hearing only to be interrupted by opponents who griped about the venue being too small and people being turned away. A large contingent of labor union members were also in the audience to support the project, and the two sides began shouting before DEP officials announced the postponement.
“Our goal as the department is to hear what everyone has to say,” the DEP official said. “We’re going to stop the hearing and reschedule it so it can be in a place where everyone can be heard.”
A new date and location will be announced soon.
Several opponents of the compressor station said the decision to reschedule was the right one.
“It’s the best decision DEP has made in a long time,” said Doug O’Malley, a leader with Environment New Jersey, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group. “This was a public safety issue. The room was too small and you shouldn’t be turning away people at a public hearing, so DEP should be given credit.”
“It’s too bad people’s comments couldn’t be heard tonight, but we hope they’ll come out and be heard again at a better venue,” said Patty Cronheim, outreach coordinator, ReThink Energy NJ.
The compressor station would link the Williams Transco gas line between Mercer and Gloucester counties with New Jersey Natural Gas’ planned Southern Reliability Link pipeline through northern Burlington, Monmouth and Ocean counties.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities have already approved construction of both the compressor station and pipeline, but those approvals are contingent on the projects obtaining several related environmental permits.
Although the compressor station and 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 small portion of Burlington County and Bass River.
Both projects have drawn 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.
Tom Gilbert, campaign director for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, said the large crowd was indicative of the growing opposition to this project and others like it.
“I think the DEP now has a better understanding about how concerned about this people are and the opposition that’s out there,” Gilbert said. “People are paying attention about the threat these projects pose, and they’re trying to protect their communities and water and they’re counting on the DEP to do their job.”
Other opponents accused Williams Transco of choosing the venue in order to stifle public comments against the proposed station.
“It was a boondoggle from the get go, just like the pipeline and compressor station,” Bordentown Township Mayor Jill Popko said. “They had no business scheduling (the hearing) in a room that only holds 200 people.”
A Williams Transco spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment after the hearing’s postponement.
Earlier, the spokesman said the utility has been working closely with the Department of Environmental Protection to obtain the required permits.
“We’re looking forward to securing the remaining outstanding clearances needed to construct this important infrastructure project and meet the state’s growing energy needs with reliable natural gas service,” Williams Transco spokesman Christopher Stockton said.
In addition to the wetlands permit, the company is still awaiting DEP approval of a water diversion permit, which would allow it to temporarily divert as many as 7 million gallons of groundwater a month from the compressor site for about 10 months while the station is being built.
A public hearing on that permit application was held in April in Chesterfield and attracted several hundred people.
Williams Transco officials had originally objected to holding a public hearing on the outstanding wetlands permit, arguing in a June letter to the department that months had passed since the company submitted its application in July 2015 and that additional delays could jeopardize the station’s planned August 2017 in-service date.
DEP officials responded that the long review was necessary due to the scope of the project and that the additional opportunity for public comment was in the public’s interest.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the postponement should be considered a small victory for opponents of the natural gas projects, but he said moving to a bigger venue was not enough and that the department should extend the public comment period for the permit and hold two public hearings instead of just one.
“What DEP did was shameful and now they need to correct it,” Tittel said. “They should hold two public hearings so people have time to comment.”
The DEP also planned to hold a public hearing on a water permit application filed by New Jersey Natural Gas for its Southern Reliability Link pipeline. That hearing was to scheduled Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. at the same Ramada Inn.
It was unknown Monday if that hearing date would also be postponed or moved to a different venue.