Eagleswood Residents Frustrated by NJNG Pipeline Project

And How About That Dredging Project?
By Victoria Ford | Aug 28, 2019

Eagleswood Township — The tiny Eagleswood Township municipal meeting room was packed Monday night, full of residents with two pressing issues on their minds: the status of the plan to lay a natural gas pipeline from the end of Dock Road in West Creek across the bay to Long Beach Island and the status of efforts to get Westecunk Creek dredged.

Presenting an update on the pipeline situation were New Jersey Natural Gas Supervising Engineer Joe Puglisi and Senior Project Manager John Kong, along with Scott Murray, an engineer from Carson Corp., the company contracted by NJNG to install the pipeline. The purpose of the Barnegat Bay crossing project is to carry a 12-inch secondary gas main to Long Beach Island to prevent delivery disruption in the event of the next superstorm.

Now months behind schedule, NJNG’s project remains stuck, literally, in the horizontal directional drilling phase. Meanwhile, the presence of construction equipment and the disruption to daily life for those who live on Dock Road has become unbearable.

“It’s a mess. It’s a real cluster,” according to Bill Gordon of John Street. “Sometimes you can’t get through.”

Residents turned out en masse to the meeting because they had received notification from the state Department of Environmental Protection that NJNG had applied for a CAFRA permit to lay 3 miles of gas main in the road from Route 9 to the bay.

Murray explained: “The project started in January. We had initial failure of the pipe; basically it got stuck. The equipment we use to do this type of crossing is worth about a million dollars, so we spent about two or three months trying to salvage it. We thought we had it salvaged, but as we were trying to retrieve the pipe, it broke, so basically in April we started the whole process over again. We were successful in the sense that we drilled a pilot hole from the Eagleswood Dock Road to the cofferdam [a watertight enclosure, pumped dry, to allow construction work below the waterline]. That part of the project was complete. Then we were in the process of reaming it, which is the next step, in preparation to pull the pipe back; that pipe got stuck during that process, and since April, May, June, July and August, we’ve been trying to attempt to free it.

“We attempt to free it gingerly; we don’t want to break it, so we spent the last four months trying to drill alongside it. We were successful in the sense that we drilled alongside it from the mainland to the barge, about 3,000 feet, then we drilled from the barge back to the mainland, about 2,000 feet. So that’s about 5,000 feet. The initial half-crossing is about 6,500 feet, so there was about 1,500 feet of pipe that was in the middle, that hasn’t been drilled, or washed over, or cleared, so we basically couldn’t go any further. So now we’re in the process of hammering it and trying to pull it.

“We just started that process on Saturday. So we’d like to give it a few more days. Once that pipe is free, the rest of the project should go relatively quickly.”

The crews will eventually set up a drill rig similar to what’s on Dock Road and repeat the whole process over on the Island side. The amount of stress on Dock Road at that point will be minimal.

Puglisi summarized: The first phase is the two directional drills crossing the bay. The last phase is the trenching of the 12-inch steel distribution main from Route 9 to the end of Dock Road. All that work is going to be in the road, he said, in the asphalt pavement, within the county right-of-way, and will be repaved afterward.

“John and I have an aggressive plan,” he said, to have multiple crews working, gaining 200 to 300 feet per day.

NJNG will host a public information meeting at the firehouse to go over the details, when the time comes.

Deputy Mayor Nick Sommaripa asked for a general timeline.

“In a perfect world,” Puglisi said, “we get this pipe unstuck this week. We’re out there, reaming, pulling the pipe in within the next two to three weeks. We move over to the LBI side, get that drill going. Once we get that intersect happening, we start reaming that process. Hopefully we’ll have all the permits here, we’ll already have the public meeting, and we’ll look to get started on this section (under the road). This is about 3 miles. With two crews working 200 feet a day, it’s going to take a little while. We don’t leave an open trench. We backfill at the end of the day; it’s drivable. Anybody with access issues, we work with steel plates to get people in and out of driveways. It will be an alternating traffic pattern, with traffic control set up.”

In a month or so when crews vacate the easement, Puglisi said “the only thing we’ll have at the end of Dock Road is our yard where we’re storing our pipe; and we’ll start stringing up the two strings that are along the south side of Dock Road now, and we’re going to have two more of those strings we’re going to build.”

Kong added those lengths of pipe will be floated out to cofferdam and pulled back toward the Island, “because there’s no room to do that on that side.”

Township attorney Tom Monahan noted the permit could be a long time coming. “I sit here, thinking, ‘I know it’s not going to go smoothly.’ It’s going to take some time,” he said.

Murray is prepared to have crews working through the winter if necessary.

In response to John Street resident Bill Gordon’s concern about missed deadlines, Monahan said a penalty provision in the temporary easement agreement says NJNG will pay $250 a day for every day past the May deadline. The penalty money will be used for something helpful or beneficial to Dock Road.

“It’s always been our intention for Dock Road to benefit from that $70,000,” Committeewoman Debra Rivas noted.

Mayor Michael Pasternak reminded the public the $70,000 Green Acres diversion funds paid to the township in exchange for the easement can only be used to purchase additional Green Acres property.

Debra Murphy of D&S Marine Services on Dock Road said she thinks NJNG “put the cart before the horse” by starting the work on the pipeline before applying for the road-related permits.

“We’re not assured of anything at this point,” Puglisi said. “We plan to do whatever we need to do to appease everyone and try to make this work the best we can.”

Dave Fox spoke glowingly of the NJNG and Carson crews. “These guys from the gas company, any problem we have, we talk to them. These guys are doing the best that they can do for us. You complain about anything, they try to take care of it. They’ve been trying to make this as palatable as they can.”

Dock Road resident Matthew Maccia estimated crews will have about four hours a day to work, depending on tides, winds, etc.; another resident, Bill McNally, is concerned about the digging in relationship to the old gas line that is already in the road. The new line will go under the existing laterals, Puglisi said.

From a common sense standpoint, Murphy said, “I’m not sure you guys really know what you’re getting into. We can get 16 to 20 inches on the crown of the road in a normal nor’easter.” And surveys of existing sewer or gas lines are unreliable, “because of the settling out there, everything sinks.”

D&S has 8,000-pound boats going down Dock Road, she added. A compromised road could spell disaster to her business.

“I know it’s going to be difficult,” Puglisi said. “We’ve been down there long enough to see a lot. There will be days we won’t be able to work.”

Dock Road resident Frank Erdin said if Stafford raised Mud City, why can’t Eagleswood raise Dock Road, “so the school buses can come down during regular moon tides?” Too often, he said, parents get called at work to pick up their kids, “because they won’t drive the bus through 3 inches of water, when they drive the buses through Long Beach Island, which is, no offense, BS.”

Maccia brought up the entanglements of the pipeline project and the ongoing dredging issue, which has been a thorn in boat owners’ sides for decades.

The last full dredging of the entire Westecunk Creek was 1960, according to the firsthand account of Bill McNally. The last maintenance dredging of any portion of the creek might have been 1983.

Is the NJNG project further delaying the dredging opportunity? Maccia wondered. Everyone is enduring the imposition for LBI, he said. There is no benefit to the people on the West Creek side of the project, which is standing in the way of people’s enjoyment of their surroundings.

Sommaripa encouraged the public to attend meetings regularly and get updates. “It’s important we hear from you, and you don’t come in here and be surprised by what’s going on,” he said. Meetings are the last Monday of each month. Town officials care about residents and realize they’re suffering, Sommaripa said.

Eagleswood’s official position is the town supports the dredging, but opposes the use of a 26-acre property at the end of Dock Road as a regional confined disposal facility, where dredge material would be trucked in to de-water and then trucked back out, perpetually.

Pasternak said the town favors exploring alternative placement and uses for disposed soils, such as living shorelines.

He said he had been working on a project with former Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora to use the dredge material to build up sedge islands in the bay, as a protective barrier for the mainland. They pitched it to the DEP in Trenton twice and got legislators on board, Pasternak said. “I saw this as a win-win. Unfortunately, John’s not in office anymore, and the plan fell by the wayside.”

“We feel these spoils could be put in a better place and make everybody happy at the same time,” Pasternak said.

But resident Jeff Clayton said they can’t afford the time it would take to find alternative solutions. His view is let’s take care of their own dredge needs now and fight the other battles later on.

Anna McNally declared: “I love West Creek. Doesn’t Eagleswood love West Creek?” She said she and her neighbors feel neglected. She used to head up the effort to advance the dredging project, but she gave up, she said, “because I don’t feel our township is backing us up.” The room applauded.

Pasternak argued the town has put a lot of effort into Dock Road, re-doing the bulkhead, the gazebo, boat slips, bathrooms, the boat ramp, and cleaning up abandoned properties.

None of that has helped with the dredging, she said. And now, the creek is only navigable by kayak and paddleboard. It’s too dangerous for boats.

Resident Sandy Morris asked if the town could facilitate a public meeting with representatives of the Department of Transportation’s Office of Maritime Resources. “We would like to help you help us,” Morris said.

Sommaripa advised neighbors to band together. “That’s the only way this is going to move forward, is if Dock Road stays unified.”

Murphy urged the town to change its position. If the town is not for the regional site, it won’t get approved.

Resident Dan Sdrzak said a few people (those who object because they live directly across from the proposed disposal facility) are preventing the project, to the detriment of the vast majority. “Why have waterfront property if you can’t access it by boat?” Sdrzak asked.

Resident Phil Biazzo said his father, brother and he built the first house on Dock Road in 1946. “We had to clear the lot; there was nothing between the loading ramp and the first bridge.” Now he and his wife own the property, but they can’t enjoy their boat, which was the whole reason they bought the property. His request to the town was for leaders to step in and take the reins.

“You said that you’re behind us; well, I don’t want to see you way behind us,” he said. “I want you out in front of us,” he said.

— Victoria Ford

victoria@thesandpaper.net

 

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