An attorney for the Galaxy Towers Condominium Association at Tuesday night’s North Bergen Planning Board meeting questioned the merit of testimony from an engineer who said putting a high-rise development near a local gas pipeline is safe.
Neighbors of the proposed site of the Appleview condo development at the North Bergen/Guttenberg border have expressed concerns over the proposed 59-unit project for the three years it has gone before both the North Bergen and Hudson County planning boards. Among the neighbors are residents of Guttenberg’s Galaxy condos, who oppose the Appleview project.
A main concern is that the construction of the development might cause a problem with the high-pressure Transco Williams natural gas pipeline that crosses a section of the project’s property.
During a North Bergen Planning Board meeting last month, Jose Rodriguez, a Transco engineer, testified that the “project would have no negative impact on [the Transco] pipeline.”
He said that a temporary fence at the property could keep construction from interfering with the pipeline.
The North Bergen Planning Board actually approved the project last year, but the matter was remanded to the board after Judge Christine Farrington of the Hudson County Superior Court said that the board did not sufficiently determine whether safety considerations had been met. She also said that testimony from a Transco representative should have been required. Last month’s hearing was the first time a pipeline company employee appeared before the Planning Board.
John Lamb, an attorney for the Galaxy board, complained during Wednesday’s roughly one-hour meeting that Rodriguez’ testimony was not credible. He said that without an investigation or inspection report, the testimony couldn’t be relied upon.
“Virtually every opinion he made referred to an investigation report or something that was never provided or produced,” said Lamb, later adding, “I’m going to ask the board to issue a subpoena to provide the information.”
Lamb also charged that Transco’s failure to show up to the initial hearings detracted from the expert’s testimony. “I’ve asked for years for a Transco representative to come up here,” he said, noting that his appeal to court essentially forced Transco to send a representative. “We respectfully do not trust Transco. They were put here only through the court’s decision.”
Transco attorney Mark Stevens argued that Transco never refused to testify at the first round of hearings.
“I respectfully disagree with Mr. Lamb’s assessment on a number of levels,” said Stevens. “Transco resisted nothing. If the board had sent a letter to Transco and said, “Please consider appearing, or please appear,” that would have been considered, and in all likelihood we would have been here.”
Stevens also said that Lamb could make a “freedom of information” request to see the inspection reports cited in Rodriguez’ testimony.
The board eventually decided that they would not rule the testimony invalid, but would allow Lamb to submit subpoenas to Transco for any inspection reports and tests relied upon for Rodriguez’ testimony.
Galaxy Towers Resident Siat Ng, a longtime vocal opponent of the project, echoed Lamb’s sentiments in an e-mail after the meeting.
“The public feel that Transco’s testimony has not been credible,” said Ng, adding that Transco should submit backup information to ease growing concerns. “The subpoena should not have been necessary if Transco was co-operative and open.”
“We respectfully do not trust Transco.” – GTCA attorney John Lamb
During Lamb’s cross-examination of Rodriguez, he questioned the credentials of Rodriguez, who had said during the last hearing that his amount of field experience makes him more qualified than a safety expert.
“Have you ever identified yourself as a pipeline safety expert or pipeline safety professional?” asked Lamb.
“I’ve identified myself as a pipeline professional,” said Rodriguez, “[and a] pipeline expert. Not a pipeline safety expert.” Rodriguez later added that pipeline safety engineers are typically based out of Houston, where the company is headquartered.
“Transco does not have any pipeline safety engineers in the state of New Jersey? Is that correct?” asked Lamb.
“Transco does not have any engineers with that title in New Jersey,” said Rodriguez.
Ng was the last individual to cross-examine Rodriguez before the meeting was cut off promptly at 9 p.m., nearly three hours earlier than the last hearing.
Ng’s questions focused primarily on the depth of the pipeline, and whether erosion could expose the pipeline, making it more vulnerable during construction.
“The pipeline is very deep there,” said Rodriguez. “Although there was [erosion], the pipeline was never exposed, and that situation never developed [into] where it was an actual risk to the pipeline.”
Planning Board attorney Steven Muhlstock expanded on Ng’s questions, asking whether equipment or vehicles would have to be maneuvered over the pipeline.
“There’s no reason for us to have to go across [the pipeline] at all,” said Rodriguez. “Not for our purposes.”
“When you have to do maintenance to the equipment,” asked Muhlstock, “would you have to go over the pipeline?”
Rodriguez said that in the event that the pipeline has to be crossed due to maintenance, Transco will do an analysis to determine its safety.
“I did a calculation myself in the last week,” said Rodriguez. “[The pipeline] has more than enough cover.”
The Hudson County Planning Board approved the project, located at 7009 7101 River Road, with a 6-1 vote in October. Their main purpose for reviewing the application was to determine whether the development would cause excessive traffic on Ferry and River roads, which are county thoroughfares. Another important focus was water drainage along the property.
The county board gave one condition for the approval: That there be further study of the stability of the “steep slope,” or the way in which the Palisade hill behind the project will be affected.
The North Bergen Planning Board had initially approved the project last March with several conditions. They required Appleview developer Carmelo Spoleti to comply with all requirements and regulations of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, Transco, and New Jersey Homeland Security, as well as federal pipeline regulations. Another condition was that the developer must also make a $25,000 contribution to the township for off-site improvements.
During last month’s hearing, Rodriguez told residents that the Appleview developers had agreed to retain a Transco inspector to be on site during construction at all times.
Hearings will continue Tuesday, Apr. 3 at 7 p.m.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at email@example.com.