Feb. 14, 2020 – Administrative Law Judge Elia Pelios presided over a public hearing on the regulator station proposed by New Jersey Natural Gas last night. With about 150 people in attendance at the Holmdel Senior/Community Center, residents expressed their concerns and unanimously voiced their opposition to the facility.
Just like in the case of the JCP&L’s proposed high power transmission line (the so-called Monmouth County Reliability Project), ALJ Pelios announced that his job is to gather testimonies and evidence, hear arguments by the parties of the case, make a recommendation known an Initial Decision and then refer the record and his decision to the New Jersey Board of Public Utility. The BPU can adopt, deny or amend the decision by ALJ Pelios.
Holmdel Mayor Greg Buontempo and Committeeman Prakash Santhana made statements voicing their opposition. Mayor Buontempo said that the Township Committee is vehemently opposed to and is committed to fighting this unacceptable proposal by NJNG. In addition, Monmouth County Freeholder Pat Impreveduto could not attend due to a Freeholder meeting, but had a statement read into public records indicating he stands with residents against the project. Thank you Mayor Buontempo, Committee Santhana and Freeholder Impreveduto!
CHARGE was pleased to stand with residents and presented an online petition, signed by more than 680 signatures in less than two weeks, in opposition to the facility. Holmdel resident Kim Casola, owner of the preserved farm and Fox Hollow Vineyards across the street from the proposed site, also presented more than 390 physical petitions in opposition. Together, more than 1,000 individuals voiced their opposition to NJ Natural Gas’s proposal – that’s a lot of “public input”!
Many residents in attendance met and heard from Holmdel Township’s outside counsel for the first time. As part of his opening remarks, Peter Dickson of Potter and Dickson out of Princeton indicated that New Jersey’s recently released Energy Master Plan called for 100% renewable energy by 2050. The implication of this is that natural gas consumption is forecasted to be about 20% of current consumption by 2050. Dickson went on to say that there are implications for “stranded assets” and the best way to avoid these future stranded assets is not to build them at all. This was echoed in public comments later made by Middletown environmental activist Pat Stemple Miller
In addition to presenting the petitions, Casola also made passionate and moving comments. After the meeting, Casola said: “It was heartwarming to see our town come together and speak out en masse against this industrial behemoth. It is apparent to all that the thinly veiled scare tactics presented by NJNG are just that- making it evident that this is simply a "want" of the gas company for self profit. I was also very touched by all the support our farm and Vineyard received from the community.”
Committeeman Santhana said: “Collectively, the residents of Holmdel refuted every single fact presented by NJNG and laid bare their true motive. It was wonderful to see residents armed with facts that showed NJNG's central claim that this is "for public good" is false.”
Frequent outspoken resident Jay Yannello also commented, "I was really impressed how so many residents in an uncoordinated fashion systematically dismantled NJNG's assertion that this facility is really needed here; and at that location; by pointing out so many inconsistencies and flaws in the company's case. I don't think the message could have been delivered any clearer or credibly to the ALJ, BPU, or Division of Rate Counsel who were present and actively listening - the town should be proud."
Resident Joe Crowley, who regularly attends Holmdel Township Committee meetings, observed that in contrast to many Township Committee meetings that could be described as contentious, Holmdel residents were united on this issue and stand in opposition to the proposed regulator station.
Regina Criscione, Co-President, read a statement on behalf of CILU – Citizens for Informed Land Use - opposing the regulator station.
So what’s next? The public can still submit written comments to the BPU after last night’s public hearing. ALJ Pelios announced that they will schedule 6 days of evidentiary hearing for the case. This is expected to take place around May or June.
While the public may attend and observe the proceeding, only parties with legal standing may participate in the evidentiary hearing. The parties with legal standing are NJ Natural Gas as the petitioner, the Division of Rate Counsel on behalf of ratepayers, the staff of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, and Holmdel Township, by statute.
At the meeting, Mayor Buontempo committed to sharing the dates of the legal proceeding on the Township’s website, through public announcements and/or the Township Newsletter once the dates are announced.