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New Jersey Files to Stop PennEast from Condemning State-Owned Land

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has filed in federal court to stop the PennEast Pipeline project from condemning more than 20 parcels of state-owned open space and farmland that were acquired through preservation programs.

The New Jersey Conservation Foundation and Hunterdon Land Trust have also filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey to prevent the project from taking preserved land they own.

In its motion, New Jersey argues that PennEast’s request for the rights to build on the “preciously scarce” preserved  lands is overly broad and that the federal court lacks jurisdiction over the state. If PennEast’s request is granted, the state argues, its open space program would suffer irreparable harm. 

PennEast spokesperson Patricia Kornick said FERC has jurisdiction over the project and therefore the federal courts have jurisdiction over the matter. She added that after close consultation with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), the pipeline would cross many state preserved properties “in order to align approximately half the New Jersey route with existing right-of-ways.

“This will reduce tree clearing and other impacts,” Kornick said. “As a result, the route crosses certain preserved parcels that PennEast is required by state law to mitigate, ultimately allowing for more open space in New Jersey, not less.”

According to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, PennEast is seeking to seize 149 of the 211 properties in the pipeline’s proposed path in New Jersey. About 50 of the properties are preserved lands. Sixty of the 149 eminent domain cases are scheduled to be heard by the courts on April 5.

Grewal’s motion is just the latest pushback against the project from the state. The NJDEP has already asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a rehearing and rescission of the January certificate authorizing PennEast, claiming the project’s environmental review failed to meet the National Environmental Policy Act. The NJDEP also filed a motion to stay the project’s authority to condemn properties in the state while its rehearing request is pending.

FERC tolled the request in what the state called a stall tactic. The NJDEP denied the company’s water quality certification (WQC) application, deeming it incomplete due in part to a lack of landowner permission to survey certain parts of the proposed route. The company is now in the process of condemning properties in the state to gain survey access for its WQC.  

Along the entire route, 75% of landowners have provided survey permission and another 60% have reached easement agreements with PennEast, Kornick said.

PennEast would move more than 1 Bcf/d of shale gas from northeast Pennsylvania to New Jersey. About one-third of the 120-mile pipeline would be in New Jersey. The project is scheduled to enter service sometime next year.

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