It was supposed to be a chance for residents to voice their concerns to the Tennessee Gas Company about the compressor station expansion it proposes for Wantage Township.
But “transportation issues” prevented Tennessee Gas representative Joseph DeSanctis from attending the June 23 Sussex County Commissioners meeting. A split crowd was left to air their views for and against the proposed project.
Last June, Tennessee Gas proposed its East 300 Upgrade, which includes a new 19,000 horsepower fracked gas compressor station along its pipeline in West Milford at 960 Burt Meadow Road, and a new 20,000-horsepower compressor at 164 Libertyville Road in Wantage that will triple the size of the existing compressor.
The pipeline sends methane gas harvested from the Marcellus Shale through Pennsylvania into New Jersey through Sussex, Passaic, and Bergen counties before it reaches its destination in Westchester County, N.Y., where it will be used by Con Edison.
Commissioners Director Dawn Fantasia said she was informed at about 4:10 p.m. that day that DeSanctis would be unable to attend the meeting.
“This board is not necessarily pleased,” Fantasia said.
She left DeSanctis’s presentation on the agenda to allow for public comment on the matter during the first session. Fantasia said DeSanctis will be back on the agenda once he tells them when he will attend.
“Tennessee Gas should be here right now,” Commissioner Chris Carney said. “It’s very disappointing. I know you guys came out here, whether you’re for or against it. He was to come here to listen to them. I was looking forward to that myself.”
Kenneth Collins of Andover said there’s a list of cancer-causing chemicals emitted by the compressor station. Methane emissions also need to be controlled, he said.
“You need to understand what they’re doing up there and understand the health impacts that you’ll have in our community,” Collins said.
Sam DiFalco of Food and Water Watch said the expansion would more than triple the size of the Wantage facility and send more particulate matter into the air.
John Rocco of Blairstown, who has worked for Tennessee Gas for 30 years and represents 9,000 operating engineers in New Jersey, said the compressor station is being expanded to make it more efficient and safer for the environment.
He also said the project will provide 150 “good-paying jobs” for two years.
“Those employees are going to go to local restaurants,” Rocco said. “After a year and a half of Covid, that our businesses have been shut down, it is our job and duty to support them.”
Robert Hopkins of Carpenters Union Local 254 said the expansion is needed so area residents don’t have to commute 60 to 70 miles for “good-paying jobs.”
Several residents said they support unions but objected to selling out health concerns for jobs.
“The benefits are very short-lived,” said Nick DiPiano of Newton. “I’ve worked in Sussex County, and we definitely need more jobs and careers. But a two-year project is not a sustainable job source for people in this county.”
Carolyn Jackson of Wantage recalled a 2018 blowdown that made the earth shake and rumble like an earthquake. When compressors are shut down, the high-pressure gas inside is vented to the atmosphere (“blowdown”) or to a flare.
“I was scared s***,” Jackson said. “Pardon my English.”
She also said her neighbor recently bought a five-acre parcel that abuts the compressor station but has decided not to build on it.
“This is affecting people’s lives,” Jackson said.
Wantage, Hamburg, and Montague have all passed resolutions opposing the expansion.
“I can’t comment really on what this board feels as this is the first public comment we’ve ever had on the topic,” Fantasia said.
“You need to understand what they’re doing up there and understand the health impacts that you’ll have in our community.” Kenneth Collins, Andover