MAHWAH, N.J. — Thirty people turned out at the Mahwah Public Library Wednesday to hear the thoughts and plans of two groups opposed to the Pilgrim Pipeline.
One is Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipeline, a grassroots group.
The other is the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, an environmental group.
The proposed project calls for dual 178-mile pipelines that would carry millions of gallons of crude oil daily from Albany to a refinery in Linden and then refined products back north.
But their route cuts through the New Jersey Highlands, a 900,000-acre region covering parts of seven counties and 88 towns. Those include Mahwah and Oakland in Bergen County as well as Wanaque, Bloomingdale, and Pompton Lakes in Passaic County.
Mahwah, Oakland, and Bloomingdale have passed ordinances banning pipelines though the effectiveness of local laws is unknown. Likewise, Bergen and Passaic counties have opposed the project.
Unlike gas pipelines, which are regulated by the federal government, oil pipelines are approved mostly by state governments.
“Now there is some talk about a possible alternative route,” said Anne Powley of Mahwah, a member of the Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipeline.
“If it doesn’t go through the Ramapo Mountains, it might go along Route 287 and pass through Franklin Lakes,” she added. “But it’s still in our watershed.”
Both groups worry about spills jeopardizing the water supply.
“It’s been said that one quart of oil could actually pollute up to one million gallons of water,” said Sean Gilson, education and outreach director for the New Jersey Highlands Coalition.
The Highlands comprises 12 percent of New Jersey’s land mass and yet supplies 70 percent of the state’s water, explained Elliott Ruga, policy director for the New Jersey Highlands Coalition.
“Because the forests in the preservation area of the Highlands function as a huge, natural, free water filtration system, New Jersey has the fourth lowest cost of water in the nation,” Ruga said.
“We know all the disadvantages we have—crazy property taxes and road congestion,” he added. “Here’s something we have that’s a great advantage. All we have to do is not screw it up.”
Pipelines cut up the ecological balance of the Highlands into proverbial ribbons, he said. Pipelines interrupt hydrological flows and disrupt wildlife breeding and migration patterns for miles.
On its website, Pilgrim Pipeline, a Connecticut-based company, states its goal — “to provide the Northeast region of the United States with a more stable supply of essential refined petroleum products.”
It also states that a pipeline is a more safe and environmentally friendly method of transporting oil and oil products.
At this point, Pilgrim Pipeline has not yet applied to the state Department of Environmental Protection for the permits it needs.
“The company has almost finished their surveying. They were just here in the Ramapo reservation,” Powley said. “So we’re guesstimating they may apply by the end of this year.”
Unwilling to leave the issue in the hands of the state, the Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipeline has joined with the New Jersey Sierra Club in accepting donations to fund an environmental study by Princeton Hydro.
The study, Powley said, will expertly lay out the potential impacts of the Pilgrim Pipeline on New Jersey. It will be presented to state regulatory agencies.
“The science is all in our favor but the money is talking in favor of the oil,” said Michael Tat, an Allendale resident who attended the forum.
“The science says oil pipeline ruptures are common,” he added, “and their effects are undeniable.”
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