A gas pipeline expert hired by objectors to a 59-unit residential development to be built near the three Galaxy Towers and a major natural gas line has suggested to North Bergen Planning Board members some of the questions they should be asking about the project, but it’s not certain if the operator of the pipeline will be available to answer.
The five-story building has been proposed by Appleview, LLC for 7009 and 7101 River Rd., near the Guttenberg border.
Planning Board meetings have been held for nearly a year because the developer needs approval from the board to combine the two lots and to build on the 2.3 acre lot, which is below the minimum 5 acres allowed. They also need a variance to exceed maximum allowable building coverage for the lot.
“If they are in the safe zone, do they care?” – April Cassin
At the March 10 meeting, neighboring residents wore red and black to symbolize how close they lived to the pipeline and to dramatize what they consider their slim chance of surviving an explosion.
Expert raises questions
Richard Kuprewicz, a gas line expert from Redmond, Wash., gave the board nearly four hours of testimony. Kuprewicz said he had worked in the pipeline industry for 38 years, including work on regulatory boards and as a pipeline operator.
Speaking from a 14-page report outlining some of his concerns, he said the Transco pipeline was 36 inches in diameter and was most likely created in 1959. He also said that to the best of his knowledge it was a transmission pipeline, not a gas “main,” contrary to previous testimony provided to the board.
Kuprewicz said that Transco should answer several questions about the pipeline, including where exactly it lies and how deep on the property.
Another question he felt Transco should answer is why the pipe only allowed 350 pounds per square inch, when most 30-inch pipes allow around 1,400. He said there could be a perfectly good reason, but that Transco should still explain.
He also referenced previous testimony that said blasting could be completed 200 feet away from the pipe, which he said could cause a landslide and that Transco had an obligation to “really do their homework.”
He also said that just because a pipeline operator is on site during construction does not mean safety is guaranteed and used an example from Bellingham, Wash., where he said a fireball almost “took out” the fire department after a rupture. Transco has promised to have a representative on site during construction, according to Appleview attorney Carmine Alampi.
Another concern was where the pipeline shutoff valves are and whether or not they are automatic. He said that there appears to be shutoff valves in front of the property on the Hudson River, but in the case of a rupture no one would be able to get near them.
As far as the health of the pipeline itself, Kuprewicz said that Transco should tell the board how long it has been since they did a diagnostic with a computer called a “smart pig” and if it found any problems with the pipeline like corrosion.
He said that the right-of-way agreement between Transco and Appleview, which Alampi provided to the board in a past meeting, only partially answers a few of his questions and that it was not sufficient. He also said that Transco has been provided with all site plans for the project and that the company has approved them as “safe.”
“I’ve been in too many cases and ‘it’s safe’ is what someone said and people died,” said Kuprewicz.
Board: why didn’t you call Transco?
“What [Kuprewicz] has suggested in terms of getting information, this could have been done a long time ago and this information could also have been requested by [Lamb] or the expert some time ago,” said Planning Board attorney Steven Muhlstock.
Members of the board asked Kuprewicz several questions about the Trasnco pipeline, and he responded that it was Transco’s job, not his, to answer them.
When Lamb said that Muhlstock could subpoena Transco to answer these questions and that it was not the job of the Galaxy Towers or the public to get them, Muhlstock said that he “didn’t think that the burden can be shifted to the board.” He also said that he did not believe that the developer necessarily had that obligation either.
He also asked that if Transco were to show up, who would ask the questions Kuprewicz had outlined, since the board members were not pipeline experts. Kuprewicz said that the board could hire their own expert.
“The township and the planning board cannot abdicate their clearly chartered safety responsibilities and obligations related to public safety,” said Kuprewicz in his report.
When Alampi asked if Kuprewicz thought anything should be built on the site, he said that if the pipeline was “prudently and properly maintained” he would see no problem with it.
A few board members asked Kuprewicz if the project was okay to build if Transco said everything was safe. He said that this was not sufficient, since Transco still has a responsibility to answer several questions.
“I don’t want to hear that it is safe, I want them to demonstrate that it’s safe,” he said.
Several members of the public felt that Kuprewicz’s testimony wasn’t being treated fairly.
“The Galaxy, under considerable expense, has been providing a lawyer to these hearings for five years,” Galaxy resident Jeremy Raben said. “There has been a lot of effort to find out what’s safe here and what isn’t, and I have a feeling that we are being scolded for not having more information from Transco. It isn’t possible to call up Transco and force them to give the answers that you’ve been asking.”
Another resident April Cassin asked the board if they lived in the “hot zone,” where surviving a blast wouldn’t be survivable.
“If they are in the safe zone, do they care?” she asked the board.
Siat Ng handed the board images of explosions that resulted from gas transmission lines, along with a chart that showed 300 feet of likely consistent burning and the half-mile zone such an event would affect.
In an unusual turn, since meetings often end around 9:30 p.m., the board continued to hear other expert witnesses for the objectors until 11:15 p.m., including a licensed planner who was cut short and will continue at the next hearing on April 5 at 6 p.m.
When at first the planning consultant wasn’t available on the board’s regularly scheduled meeting on a separate date, Muhlstock remarked that he would have to make himself available, because it wasn’t fair for Appleview to pay for another special meeting to the township.
Soon after, Alampi consented to scheduling a special meeting so the board didn’t have to continue with the testimony that night.
Several members of the public shouted out that this was unfair. Raben said after the meeting that all of Appleview’s witnesses were never rushed, yet the Galaxy Towers’ were.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.