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NJ preservation groups join call to stop PennEast gas project's property access

New Jersey conservation groups asked the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey to deny PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC's attempts to secure condemnation rights on 149 properties for its $1 billion natural gas pipeline project.

On March 22, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the Hunterdon Land Trust asked the court to reject the developer's request for access to the properties, which include more than 20 parcels of state-owned open space and farmland.

Fifty of the disputed properties are preserved lands. If PennEast is granted access to the properties, the harm to a 60-year-old open-space program would be "irreparable," the conservation groups said in a March 23 news release. The groups join other pipeline opponents, including landowners and state agencies and officials.

"PennEast's attempt to prematurely obtain free rein over [the] properties in New Jersey represents significant overreach at best, and corporate bullying at worst," attorney Susan Kraham said in the news release. (U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey docket 3:18-cv-01756)

PennEast, whose developer declined to provide additional comment for this article, would use existing rights of way with overhead powerlines for approximately half of the project's path in New Jersey, which would require the pipeline to cross through some state-preserved properties. Compared to alternative routes, this path would ultimately result in more open space in the state.

Earlier in March, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and another pipeline opponent asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a rehearing of the project's authorizing certificate order. The groups claimed the project would not contribute to supply security for its customers and was ultimately unnecessary.

The project, including its current route, was approved in an authorizing certificate order Jan. 19, after FERC spent two years and four months analyzing the project and its impacts. The project would include a compressor station and a 36-inch-diameter pipeline running approximately 120 miles from Luzerne County, Pa., to an interconnection in Mercer County, N.J.

PennEast has said the project will lower electric and gas utility bills for customers. It is a joint venture of affiliates of Enbridge Inc., Southern Co. Inc., New Jersey Resources Corp., South Jersey Industries Inc. and UGI Corp. (FERC docket CP15-558)