By Jaimie Moscarello
The Tennessee Gas Company is expanding its territory, the “Northern Upgrade,” through the Ramapo Mountains and miles of New Jersey’s most pristine forests in West Milford, Ringwood and Mahwah. The pipes are going under Monksville Reservoir, part of northern New Jersey’s main watershed where 5 million people depend on drinking water. There are currently four separate projects taking place in Northern New Jersey. Individually the environmental impacts seem minor, but are collectively significant. This article will take a closer look at the Tennessee Gas Company pipeline in Ringwood.
At one time, the Ramapo Mountains were the tallest in the country, but eroded from 2 million years of ice ages. These mountains are the oldest in the country; 10,000 years ago, the last glacial age carved ridges and valleys, rich in iron ore. The area including Ringwood became home to European settlers and iron industry workers after the land was taken from the Native Americans.
The Ramapough Lenape tribe is native to the Ringwood area. The tribe has a sacred burial ground that takes up a portion of the mountain where Ringwood and Mahwah now border. Chief Perry of the tribe says the cemetery may be the largest in the country, with over 1,000 bodies. No headstones show exactly where the bodies lay.
The Public Archaeology Lab has been hired to look for artifacts showing the history of the mountains. In accordance, companies won’t be able to come and take the cherished land to preserve its historical value. So far, two shoeboxes have been filled with artifacts and donated to the Ramapough Conservancy. Inside the boxes include buttons off of Civil War Uniforms and a 17,000-year-old arrowhead-like instrument.
The Lenape Native American tribe originally inhabited the 582 acres the manor stands on today. Iron mogul Martin Ryerson built the manor in 1807. In 1854, Peter Cooper, an inventor and industrialist bought Ringwood with his son-in-law, Abram S. Hewitt. Hewitt made the summer home larger in the 1860’s and 1870’s, to include 51 rooms with 24 fireplaces, 13 bathrooms and 28 bedrooms.
Because of the power and wealth of the Cooper-Hewitt family, the estate was commonly known as the Second White House.The Hewitt family gave the State of New Jersey the Ringwood Manor in 1936. Tours inside the manor are offered occasionally, but the gardens are open to the public.
The roads surrounding the manor lead to 18th century mines, 19th century houses, prehistoric Indian rock shelters, streams, lakes and furnaces. Because of their age, many of them have been lost over time. The Palisades Park Commission and the NY/NJ Trails Conference have uncovered 200-year-old roads that are now hiking trails open to the public.
Tennessee Gas Company operates a 13,700-mile long pipeline system. The company gets their natural gas supply from the Gulf of Mexico, Texas, Appalachia and Canada, serving the Midwest and mid-Atlantic regions, including New York City and Boston.
Tennessee Gas Company began working on the Northeast Upgrade in March 2011. Their plan is to put in new pipes through 23 miles of New Jersey, including public land for the company’s private use, and connect these into 105 miles through Pennsylvania.
This plan is expected to be complete in November 2013 and cost about $400 million. According to the company’s website, they are the company that is “the neighbor to have.”
It turns out Tennessee Gas Company has a 93% failure rate in a section of Pennsylvania, according to the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. Instead of using a half-mile existing right of way, the company routed 7.5 miles of new pipes through intact forest. They have violated permit regulations and have had noncompliance orders placed against them.
I sure wouldn’t want the Tennessee Gas Company to be my neighbor.
Ramapo College of New Jersey hosted the 18th annual Ramapo River Watershed Conference on April 26. An hour of the conference was dedicated to Assessing Cumulative Impacts of Gas Pipelines in the Highlands Region and was presented by students in the Environmental Assessment Capstone course at Ramapo College.
The students researched three major areas of concern about the pipeline construction: ecological, physical and social.
Toxins: Tennessee Gas Company is improperly disposing of materials, including wastewater. The company uses herbicides and pesticides to the land, killing plants and insects that have grown in the forests for ages.
Surface Water: Tennessee Gas Company is using HDD (Horizontal Directional Drilling) for the pipeline construction. This is the safest and cleanest to people, but deadly to fish.
A mile and half away from the construction is the Ramapo River. The chemicals from the construction is infecting the ecosystem including the soil, which in turn, infects the surface water of the Ramapo River, the source of drinking water for millions of people.
Flora/Flauna: Because of the clearing in the mountain, the forest is now fragmented. Trees that are used to living among other trees are now on the edge, and not used to the wind and weather. Wildlife are easier to find for their predators because they have fewer places to hide. The plants are now exposed to toxic and hazardous materials that they aren’t used to. The clearing caused rodents to leave the forest with rattlesnakes following them.
Tennessee Gas Company was ordered to replant trees for what they took down, however the replants are merely twigs.
Health & Safety: The existing pipes next to the new pipelines are over 50 years old. Because of their age and wear, the pipes are dangerous because of potential leaks. Leaks are only detected when neighbors smell the gas and report it. Even then, emergency personnel are not trained to properly fix leaks and the gas company can’t get to the area as soon as the emergency vehicles can. Explosions are incredibly harmful to the environment. We’ve seen the effects of BP’s oil well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and Exxon’s leak of tar-sands oil in Arkansas in 2013.
Social: The northern New Jersey towns the four pipeline projects are in have a high minority population, where families have a lower income, lower education, and concentrated youth populations.
The town of Ringwood is still recovering from the paint sludge dumping by the Mahwah Ford plant from the 60’s and 70’s. The people don’t have much trust in their leaders or the people around them. The pipeline and construction has devalued the land. The construction is noisy and has destroyed the once beautiful views of the mountains. Even though the construction has offered 1,100 jobs to the area, very few are permanent.
“Everything in the environment depends on everything else,” said Judith Sullivan to the Environmental Writing class at Ramapo College last month. What seems like the smallest disruption to us is really a huge disruption to nature. Sullivan explained further that one single ATV ride up the mountain disrupts the environment and cutting down trees to open up the forests has an effect on birds because they won’t cross over the opening.
We have to treat our environment with care. If we don’t, it will end up harming us.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Join activist groups. Be aware of what’s going on in your community.
The Ramapough Conservancy, a nonprofit corporation founded by Judith Sullivan and Monte Marfilius, is for people who want to preserve and restore the historical significance of the Ramapo Mountains and its beauty.
The Sierra Club is America’s largest grassroots organization, striving to protect the wild places of Earth, promote the responsible use of Earth’s resources and ecosystem, and to educate people to protect and restore the quality of the environment. Check the website for a chapter near you.
The Highlands Coalition represents organizations to protect, enhance and restore the New Jersey Highlands. They also strive to preserve the quality and quantity of the drinking water for the millions of people who depend on water from the Highlands.
FIND OUT MORE:
Ramapough Conservancy: www.facebook.com/pages/Ramapough-Conservancy
Sierra Club: http://www.sierraclub.org/
The Highlands Coalition: http://www.njhighlandscoalition.org/
NY-NJ Trail Conference: http://www.nynjtc.org/
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: https://www.ferc.gov/
Highlands Coalition: http://www.njhighlandscoalition.org/
Tennessee Gas: http://www.tngas.org/
Ringwood Manor Info: http://www.njbg.org/skylandsmanor.shtml