Woolwich Demands Answers from Columbia Gas Transmission

woolwich webBy Jenny Cowan

WOOLWICH TWP. — At their meeting on March 16, the Woolwich Township Committee questioned a Columbia Gas Transmission to explain the current construction site located behind Franklin Bank at the intersection of Auburn Road and Center Square Road. Currently, the site has multiple construction vehicles, a newly constructed fence around the perimeter, as well as large dirt piles.

Maccarone asked Columbia Gas Transmission Project Manager Bob Yurec why the township had never been notified of the construction. Maccarone also stated that the township had reached out to Columbia Gas Transmission multiple times in recent weeks and had not received a response.

Township Administrator Jane DiBella added that she has been fielding multiple calls per day from residents asking what is happening at the site, with rumors ranging from the construction of new housing to new commercial businesses.

Yurecka explained that the site is being utilized as a staging area for a pipeline expansion project recently approved by federal regulators. The expansion, titled East Side Expansion Project on Columbia Gas Transmission’s website, includes 9.5 miles of pipeline that will be installed in Gloucester County, with maps on the website indicating the pipe will travel through Logan and Woolwich Townships.

The staging area will be used to store pipe, equipment, and trailers while the project is underway.

“It would have been a courtesy and might have been helpful to post a sign notifying residents that it is a staging area. No other utilities have come into the township with a ‘get out of our way’ attitude like Columbia Gas has done,” said Deputy Mayor Alan Schwager.

Yurecka responded that Columbia Gas has coordinated with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the New Jersey State Environmental Department. “I’m surprised that during our outreach program, which was a year ago, that the township was not notified,” said Yurecka.

“We’re not here to get in your way. We’re here to assist you. But by not letting us know, you’re blindsiding us,” said Maccarone.

Various safety concerns about the site were raised as well. “My concern is the sight triangles,” Schwager said. He explained that Columbia had constructed fences close to Auburn Road and he is concerned that trucks pulling out of that area will not have a proper line of sight to safely merge into traffic.

In addition, concerns regarding fire safety were also mentioned. “If there’s a fire, it’s our volunteers that have to respond. The County Fire Marshall knew nothing about this,” said Woolwich Code Official Jim Sabetta.

Schwager also noted that Columbia Gas has secured another site across the street, and asked whether or not this would also be a staging area. Yurecka declined to comment, responding that he was not sure of the plan.

“Well I hope that Columbia has learned from this, and hope that they reach out before ‘shock and awe’ for the next staging area,” said Schwager.

Yurecka assured the Committee that he would have the appropriate contacts get in touch with the Committee by the next day.

The morning following the meeting, DiBella noted that neither she, nor any other official, had been contacted by Columbia as was promised.

In resolutions during the meeting, the Committee passed a resolution adopting a revised transitional duty policy. This policy establishes guidelines and procedures for giving transitional duty assignments to an employee who is recovering from a work related injury or illness, or otherwise has temporary physical work restrictions.

One of the goals of the policy is to return injured or ill employees back to work as soon as possible.

The township also approved the issuance of a peddler’s license to Allied Construction. The Committee noted that the company plans to solicit solar panels to township residents. Though Schwager said he did not see the need for door to door solicitation of solar panels, other members of the Committee were quick to remind him that as long as a business followed appropriate procedures in obtaining a permit, that they have the right to sell their products in the township.

In addition, the Committee passed a resolution authorizing the increase in the open space tax from three cents up to five cents in accordance with the referendum passed in the 2013 general election. “Money raised with this tax is used for the purchasing, development, and maintenance of open space, recreation parks and farmland preservation,” said William Pine, Woolwich Township’s Chief Financial Officer.

The Committee also passed a resolution authorizing the cancellation of taxes for 2015. The resolution only canceled taxes on an individual property on which a totally disabled veteran or their surviving spouse resides. “This is an exemption permitted in the New Jersey Constitution and Tax code,” said Pine.

Committeewoman Jennifer Cavallaro reported that volunteers for the Parks and Recreation Committee helped stuff 1,800 eggs for the township’s upcoming Easter egg hunt. Cavallaro added that approximately 10,000 eggs are needed for a successful hunt.

The additional eggs were ordered pre-stuffed, part of the cost being covered by Maccarone who donated his ceremony fees from the year to help offset the cost of the additional eggs.

During his report, Schwager said that several community garden participants had asked permission to erect temporary greenhouses on their plot. After some discussion, the Committee concluded that large structures, such as a greenhouse, would not be permitted on community garden plots due to the possibility of wind damage, and potentially making the garden less aesthetically pleasing.

In reports, Director of Community Development Matt Blake announced that the closing date for the Previtera Farm Preservation would be March 17. The 56-acre farm, located on Mill Road, was preserved for $1,349,364.

Nate Russo, of Russo Homes, based in Swedesboro, had acquired the property several years ago from a prior developer, who had secured approvals to build 31 homes, which will now never be built as the result of preservation. Russo was preparing to move forward with the project, when Maccarone reached out to him personally, and convinced him to instead pursue preservation.

“It was an interesting transaction in that it represented a two-part closing, whereby the land was both preserved by government partners, and simultaneously sold back to the former owner, a local farmer named Alfio Previtera who will continue to grow crops on land which he grew up on,” said Blake.

Blake also noted that Gloucester County also played a critical role in the preservation. In May 2014 the township was notified that the state would not be able to provide the standard 60 percent cost share to preserve the land. The County stepped in and offered to cover 50 percent of the shortfall. Woolwich ultimately contributed $532,677.00, from its voter-dedicated open space tax.

“If other counties in New Jersey administered their preservation programs with the same level of professionalism, comprehensive project support and aggressive can-do mentality, the garden in the Garden State would be much bigger today,” said Blake.

 

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