RED BANK GAS SPAT MOVES TO STATEHOUSE

Red Bank wants the regulators, below, enclosed beneath sidewalks, like one outside 26 Monmouth Street, above.  (Click to enlarge)

Three months after Red Bank borough and New Jersey Natural Gas publicly clashed over the gas company’s plan to install pressure-regulating valves in front of more than 80 borough businesses, the fight has moved to Trenton.

After a hearing over proposed legislation that would limit the utility’s ability to unilaterally locate emergency venting equipment was postponed Monday, representatives of the two sides aired their cases on the Statehouse steps, the Asbury Park Press reports.

The legislation, which has also sparked a lawsuit now awaiting a ruling from state Superior Judge Lawrence Lawson in Freehold, was introduced by 11th-District state Senator Jennifer Beck, a borough resident and former member of the borough council. Backed by Red Bank RiverCenter, the bill would require utilities to get local approval for such moves.

Scheduled to testify before the hearing was rescheduled by the Senate Economic Growth Committee were borough Administrator Stanley Sickels and RiverCenter Executive Director Nancy Adams, said Mayor Pasquale Menna. But the hearing was postponed after Beck amended the bill to comply with federal regulations, according to today’s Asbury Park Press (story access limited).

From the article, by reporter Larry Higgs:

Utility officials said the bill could set a precedent that would go beyond Red Bank’s boundaries.

Gas utility officials argued that they’re moving 88 natural-gas pressure regulators from underneath the ground and next to buildings to deal with a safety issue brought on by corrosion, which will happen in other towns.

But borough officials said relocating the knee-high regulators to sidewalks would still subject them to corrosion, in addition to creating a tripping hazard or worse. They also would blight a downtown where thousands of tax dollars have been spent on beautification.

Red Bank officials also said the utility hasn’t answered their questions.

“We don’t understand the lack of transparency — that’s what the bill is about,” said Beck, a Red Bank resident. “NJ Natural Gas is not sharing information about options; they have just said it is (their) decision.”