Who Lives in the Incineration Zone?

Michael Heffler January 2017

I’m almost certain that executives of gas and oil companies don’t have pipelines running on their properties.  Working to stop the PennEast pipeline I’ve learned that the area surrounding a pipeline is called an incineration zone.

I recently met with Jacqueline Evans, a resilient, lovely woman with 10-year old twin sons and a 13-year old daughter.  Her farm is on a dirt road in Delaware Township.  She has an organic garden, chickens, sheep and really cute baby goats.   It’s an idyllic setting with a vernal spring and a meadow, just down the road from one of the oldest stone bridges in the state.

Jacqueline exemplifies how adversity builds strength and community.  Her adversity comes from the proposed PennEast pipeline.  PennEast is disrupting lives, threatening our water, cratering local property values and it’s not needed.  If we can stop it from being built the gas it’s proposing to transport will come into New Jersey through existing pipelines.  Over the next decade, New Jersey has roughly 50% more natural gas coming in over existing pipelines than projected demand.

The PennEast pipeline’s proposed route will go right past Jacqueline’s front porch, through her garden and right beside her chicken coop and goat pen.  During construction she won’t be able to use her driveway.  Her children will have to walk by the construction to get home from school.  When we spoke Jacqueline told me:  “I’m not going to sit quietly in the back of the bus when my kids’ lives are threatened by having to live in an incineration zone!”

When I grew up in New York City, apartment buildings had incinerators with roaring fires to burn garbage.  The small metal doors where we dumped our trash into the incinerator were too hot to touch. The door handle was covered in wood.  You held it carefully.  If you scraped your knuckles against the door you’d be scorched.  That was my first exposure to incineration.

My more recent exposure to incineration was seeing the results of the pipeline explosion a few years ago in the little town where Steven Spielberg filmed ET.  Almost everyone in that town suffered injuries, burns and trauma from the flames and explosion that went out hundreds of feet in every direction from the pipeline.

The conservative estimate for the incineration zone around a 36-inch pipeline is 1000 feet in all directions.  How often do gas pipelines explode in the United States?  There were four recorded in 2016 and several a year for many years before that.  There was one in 2015 in Holland Township, not far from Jacqueline’s farm.  The gas companies tell us that pipelines are safe and there’s nothing to worry about.

PennEast is offering landowners on its proposed route as little as possible for their land.  What a pipeline does to the value of property can change your life – for the worse.  Over 70% of the people on the pipeline route have refused to let PennEast survey their land.  All of the mayors of the towns along the pipeline oppose it.  86% of Delaware Township, where Jacqueline lives, oppose the pipeline and have refused to let PennEast survey their properties.  In spite of PennEast’s intimidation tactics the community is sticking together to oppose PennEast.  Here are Jacqueline’s own words:

“The farm I built with my children would be completely destroyed by the 36”, 1480 psi pipe, built to the weakest standards allowable.  The pipeline route is less than 200 feet from my children’s bedrooms putting them in an “incineration zone”. Our well, that provides water for our livestock, and us, is threatened.  It’s less than 100 feet from the line. PennEast has threatened me by insisting I sign a “deal” of less than 4% of the value of our home, or lose it through eminent domain, which they say will pay even less. PennEast’s intimidation tactics include telling us that FERC will approve the pipeline with or without surveys and environmental studies that are required. Strange men in green vests have been photographed trespassing on my property illegally surveying for PennEast, even though I have sent numerous certified letters refusing access. We endured 7 months of low aerial surveying that PennEast publicly denied being part of, until my photos submitted to the FAA resulted in a letter from the FAA confirming PennEast was conducting aerial surveying. It wasn’t until this letter was presented at a Congressional hearing in Washington DC, that the daily flying (from sun up to sundown) subsided.”

Here’s a multi-billion dollar limited liability company, owned by five natural gas companies and PSE&G, trying to intimidate a mother of three young children by threatening her to knuckle under with a low ball bid for her property, sending men to trespass on her property and having helicopters buzz her property for days.  Sounds like just the kind of people you want to trust on their claims of incineration zone safety.  Makes you understand why no gas company executives have pipelines on their properties.

Jacqueline planned to use the equity in her home to pay for her children’s education.  If there’s a pipeline running across the property it will be impossible to sell the home for fair value and get her children out of the incineration zone.  A pipeline on her property will change the financial trajectory of Jacqueline’s life.  If all this wasn’t enough, if they dig deep enough to put in a pipeline there’s the risk of radon contamination.

Jacqueline keeps fighting, getting to the FAA and Congress.  Her kids are very proud of their mom.  We take pride in fighting adversity.  We can’t afford to underestimate its possible harmful results.  Jacqueline used the analogy that the threat of a pipeline on your property is like being told your spouse has cancer.  You can be strong, you can put up a fight, but the result could be devastating.  She’s strong, smart, loves her kids and has heart.  I know she’ll keep fighting.  If you’re inspired please join her by joining or donating to HALT PennEast, NJ Rethink Energy or your local Citizens Against the Pipeline group.

This is part of a series of articles about the communities and people whose lives will be affected by the proposed PennEast pipeline.

About Michael Heffler

Michael Heffler is a Businessman (retired), Author, Bicycling Enthusiast and member of the HALT PennEast Board of Trustees.  He resides in Lambertville, NJ.

The End of a Dream

Michael Heffler February 2017

When you grow up poor and move seventeen times because your family can’t pay the rent, you survive on hopes and dreams. If you work hard, have a determination, get a college education, a good job, save money, have the great good fortune to have a loving marriage it’s a triumph. If you also have a dream to buy a farm surrounding by beautiful country and your dream comes true, it’s a heck of a story.

Mike Plesher lived that life and had that dream. Mike was the Senior Reliability Engineer for the first moon camera that went on Apollo 13. The camera on the Tyros weather satellite orbiting Earth is named for Maryanne Plesher, his wife of over 50 years. Maryanne is the daughter of a Pennsylvania coal miner. She’s a biologist who was the product manager for the first ACE inhibitor, worked on some of the first beta-blockers in the 1970s and succeeded in a world where there were few professional women.

Maryanne is forthright and lively. When she walked me around the property she said: “Every day we spent here we were happy.” With that as context for a life well lived, without a hint of doubt in her voice, she then said that fighting the PennEast pipeline was the cause of her husband’s death. Mike had the focus you’d expect in a Senior Reliability Engineer, the focus needed to make certain video is transmitted from the moon. With the intelligence and focus that made him successful in his career, Mike began contacting legislators to educate them about PennEast and was unrelenting. Unfortunately his health failed before his efforts bore fruit.

Mike’s death forced Maryanne to put their dream house on the market; without his Social Security income she can’t afford to live there. Making a bad situation worse, the proposed pipeline route has deeply decreased the property value. Two years ago she received unsolicited offers that were over 300% higher than what she’s being offered now. No prospective buyer who’s found out about the pipeline has followed through with a firm offer.

Mike was fighting the possibility of a pipeline destroying the beautiful valley surrounding his dream house and having his property value plummet. The pipeline also creates the prospect of living in an incineration zone, the area within 900 feet of this pipeline. If the pipeline leaks gas and explodes everything, within 900 feet in all directions, would be destroyed by the explosion and flames. A pipeline explosion in California devastated a town and caused death, injury and illness to most town residents. Mike also fought because PennEast isn’t needed.

Like Mike and Maryanne, I worked for over 30 years and made a good living. I understand and benefitted from the profits those companies earned. I understand that optimizing profits leads to superior stock performance, bonuses for employees and better returns for investors. Profits help make dreams come true. Profits are more than justified when they add value to people’s lives. In PennEast’s case the pipeline isn’t needed, it’s adding cost, no value, and it’s damaging people’s lives.

The investors in PennEast are building the pipeline to get the 14% profit that the government guarantees for pipelines. What a deal! The truth these same investors are doing their best to hide is that according to the NJ Division of Rate Counsel, the state agency that regulates utility rates, NJ is 53% over-subscribed for natural gas for the next decade using existing pipelines. Simply stated, the gas will be transported to NJ without the PennEast pipeline.

PennEast’s investors are simply moving gas from a pipeline they don’t own to one they do. That 14% profit will come from the rates charged to everyone in NJ using natural gas. We’re forced to pay more and there’s no benefit to any of us.

Maryanne says that PennEast has increased its’ pressure on her. None of her neighbors has succumbed to PennEast’s offers to buy land or survey their land. PennEast has buzzed Maryanne’s house with helicopters and she feels they’re targeting her as a new widow. PennEast’s actions destroyed Maryanne and Mike’s dream. That ‘s strengthened her will to stand against them.

There’s a crisis of confidence in our public officials and in the fossil fuel industry. Fossil fuel companies are the largest polluters on the planet. They’re fighting to preserve their profits against the rising tide of renewable energy. They’re buying politicians to lie and say climate change is a hoax. They’ve learned from the tobacco industry that if they sow enough doubt they can continue making profits regardless of the damage they cause.

It isn’t only Mike and Maryanne Plesher’s dream that PennEast is needlessly ruining. It’s the lives and dreams of everyone who live on or near this pipeline. Do you want to trust a company that provides no value, wants many of us to reside in an incineration zone, lowers our property values and risks the safety of our communities? PennEast is a limited liability corporation. If there is a leak, an explosion, or widespread problems with our water supply PennEast will vanish into bankruptcy and we’ll be left to clean up the mess. PennEast plans to use eminent domain to take away people’s property. Eminent domain, the taking of private property for the public good, should actually be for the public good.

It’s a tough battle. If you want to join the fight please join or contribute to HALT PennEast, Rethink NJ Energy, NJ Sierra Club, or the Delaware RiverKeeper.

This is part of a series of articles about the communities and people whose lives will be affected by the proposed PennEast pipeline.

About Michael Heffler

Michael Heffler is a Businessman (retired), Author, Bicycling Enthusiast and member of the HALT PennEast Board of Trustees.  He resides in Lambertville, NJ.

Our very own Disaster movie

Michael Heffler January 2017

Disaster movies are thrilling. There’s always a hero who helps save people and a villain that denies that the disaster is going to happen, which builds dramatic tension and, inevitably, makes the disaster worse.

No one ever thought the lovely suburban town where Steven Spielberg filmed ET would experience a disaster, but several years ago a gas pipeline exploded in the town. Now there’s not much of a town left and many of the survivors have scars on their skin and lungs. The gas companies insist that these disasters are rare. There were four gas pipeline explosions in 2016. There were more in 2015, one in nearby Holland Township.

Here’s the setting for our movie. The PennEast pipeline route traverses Hunterdon County and Lambertville. Its proposed route runs next to the Swan Creek Reservoir dam on Route 518, on a hill overlooking Lambertville. If the dam breaks when PennEast blasts the bedrock along the pipeline’s route, Lambertville will be flooded; a catastrophe that will devastate our city. If there’s a pipeline explosion, what is called the “incineration zone” will spread 1000 feet from the pipeline in all directions.

In this movie we play the poor townspeople who get swept away by the flood or have our homes and lungs incinerated by an explosion. The heroes are the groups fighting the pipeline like Lambertville Citizens Against the Pipeline, NJ ReThink Energy and Homeowners Against Land Takeaway (HALT). The villains are the people telling us there’s nothing to worry about because they have a great safety record. Everything will be fine. We’ll have cheap, efficient energy. They’ll create lots of jobs.

There’s a phenomenon going on now that some politicians call “alternate facts”. It used to be called lying. Unless we question PennEast’s alternate facts one day we might discover they’ve come up with one to disguise their role in the devastation of Lambertville. Here are some examples of PennEast’s alternate facts.

The NJ Division of Rate Counsel, the state body that regulates the pricing of natural gas in NJ, has said that NJ has 53% more natural gas scheduled for delivery than we’ll need for the next decade. To amplify the problem, PennEast is asking for rates that provide far higher profit margins than any other pipeline. In other words, we don’t need this pipeline and PennEast expects to make enormous profits. You can see why they’d say anything so they can build the pipeline.

We asked Suez Water Company, whose Swan Creek Reservoir provides Lambertville’s water supply, if PennEast consulted them about the pipeline’s route. They said no. PennEast says they’ve consulted with Suez Water.

When we researched PennEast’s filing about jobs we discovered that most of the people building the pipeline will be brought in from out of state, as they have the expertise to build a natural gas pipeline. Post-construction, PennEast filings state that there will only be ten jobs created in NJ.

PennEast’s funding comes from five natural gas companies and PSEG. It’s been incorporated as a limited liability corporation. We recently had experience with a limited liability corporation in Lambertville named Orleans. They built the Lamberts Hill community. As soon as the last home was sold Orleans declared bankruptcy when they were informed of quality issues discovered in the installation of the homes’ siding. This limited their liability to a few thousand dollars. Many homeowners paid over $20,000 to re-side their homes. If there’s a catastrophe in Lambertville, PennEast will declare bankruptcy and we’ll be stuck having to rebuild our city… if the devastation isn’t totally overwhelming.

So the plot is set. We have a potential disaster – it could be a flood that wipes out the city or an explosion that ruins homes, lives and property values. We have heroes trying to stop it. We have villains with alternate facts telling us that everything will be fine.

And ironically we have a pipeline that we don’t need according to a state agency whose job it is to monitor the facts. The gas will likely be sold overseas, but we’ll have the obligations as ratepayers to be billed for the costs of pipeline development through our monthly gas bills. The cost of developing this pipeline is $1 billion. Once again, this is for a pipeline that we don’t need.

All along its route, PennEast will be ruining local homes, farms and lives as it uses eminent domain to take away our neighbors’ properties. Even if everything goes right, just the threat of a disaster will cause our property values to decline.

In the movies we suspend disbelief. Things don’t have to make sense as long as there’s drama and action. In our lives, “alternate facts” won’t stop a disaster. You can join the heroes and try to avoid being one of the helpless townspeople during the disaster. Or you can get your popcorn and wait for the action to unfold.

This is the first in a series of articles about the communities and people whose lives will be affected by the proposed PennEast pipeline.

About Michael Heffler
Michael Heffler is a Businessman (retired), Author, Bicycling Enthusiast and member of the HALT PennEast Board of Trustees.  He resides in Lambertville, NJ.