Archaeological concerns slow natural gas pipeline

WOODLAND PARK, N.J. — Already delayed by slow permit approval, the proposed Tennessee Gas pipeline from West Milford to Mahwah is now being held up by federal officials because it would either run through or near historic areas, including Native American burial grounds.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which approved the project last spring, said in a Nov. 21 letter that the pipeline cannot be built until Tennessee Gas comes up with a plan to minimize the $400 million project’s impact on sites such as Skylands Manor Historic District in Ringwood, Cleveland Bridge in Mahwah and St. Luke’s Chapel in Ringwood.

“The company will have to come up with a mitigation plan to avoid or at least mitigate their impact on archaeological sites,” Tamara Young-Allen, a spokeswoman for FERC, told The Record of Woodland Park. The agency regulates interstate energy projects.

FERC approved the project in May, saying it would not have an adverse effect on the environment despite permanently removing 16 acres of forest by widening the pipeline’s right-of-way and building access roads.

But after environmental and community groups requested an archaeological review, FERC said that the pipeline and its access roads come near 21 historic sites in New Jersey.

It is unclear exactly what Tennessee Gas would do since the controversial pipeline, called the Northeast Upgrade, is proposed to run parallel to a 60-year-old existing pipeline. The pipeline will cut through 7.6 miles of some of the most pristine forests in West Milford, Ringwood and Mahwah. It also will go under the Monksville Reservoir and through northern New Jersey’s main watershed region that supplies drinking water to 5 million people.

If the pipeline’s route is changed, according to an earlier FERC report, it could take down much more than the 16 acres of forest slated to be permanently removed under the current plan.

Richard Wheatley, a spokesman for Tennessee Gas’ parent company, Kinder Morgan, declined to comment when reached by The Record.

Tennessee Gas is analyzing how the project could avoid impacts on burial grounds and other historic areas, according to FERC. “However, it is unlikely that TGP would be able to avoid all impacts to these sites, and it is anticipated that there may be some adverse effects,” the FERC letter reads.

The report doesn’t indicate whether the pipeline would go through burial grounds of the Ramapough Lenape Nation, for fear that it would give the exact location of the graves, which could prompt robbery or vandalism, said Judith Sullivan, president of the advocacy group Ramapough Conservancy Inc., dedicated to protecting the Ramapo Mountains. It would only say that the sites would be “adversely affected.”

Other areas would have the pipeline come so close that it would create a disturbance. Skylands Manor is a 44-room mansion built in the 1920s that is now part of the 96-acre New Jersey Botanical Garden and is on the state and national registers of historic places. St. Luke’s Chapel was built in 1895 and is near Skylands Manor.

Cleveland Bridge, on Bear Swamp Road in Mahwah, is the oldest vehicular bridge in Bergen County, dating to 1888. Sullivan said her group has already negotiated with Tennessee Gas to scale back the tonnage of the trucks going over the bridge.

High Point State Park would also be affected by access roads for the project that would require widening and repaving. The Appalachian Trail would be adversely affected as the existing right-of-way corridor would be widened to make room for the pipeline, according to FERC.

Sullivan called the decision a “great Thanksgiving gift” from the federal government. Other opponents of the project agreed.

“I don’t know if it’s enough to stop it, but maybe they will rethink what they’re doing,” said Beverly Budz, of the North Jersey Pipeline Walkers. “Our goal is to get it out of state parks, get it away from sensitive water bodies and get it away from historical places and burial grounds. They’re putting it all in the wrong places.”

The Ramapoughs have been concerned that setting off explosives to break through rock to lay the pipeline underground could damage rock shelters and historic mines.

Tennessee Gas committed to re-examine portions of the right-of-way that may contain burial sites and address potential blasting impacts, according to FERC. Chief Dwaine Perry of the Ramapough Lenape Nation declined to comment.

Nine historic properties would not be affected by the pipeline because of distance, topography or a vegetation buffer, including Ringwood Manor, Long Pond Iron Works in West Milford and the Wanaque Reservoir Historic District.

Although the company wanted to begin construction this fall, Tennessee Gas is still awaiting permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Army Corps of Engineers, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, according to a recent filing with FERC. Tennessee Gas has said it would employ 700 workers during construction and generate $36.5 million in income for local labor.