Natural gas and water supply lines are to be tunneled beneath the Shrewsbury River between Rumson Road in Rumson, above, and Sea Bright. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)


Residents of Rumson and Sea Bright may see an unusual construction project as early as next month, when two utility companies run new service lines connecting the towns 25 feet below the floor of the Shrewsbury River.

Municipal and utility officials said they expect minimal disruption to traffic during the monthlong project, when New Jersey Natural Gas and New Jersey-American Water plan to drill beneath the river from Sea Bright to Rumson and then pull about a quarter-mile of piping across the span.

The new gas and water lines line, shown in yellow, will run through openings to be drilled from the parking lot of the Sea Bright Beach Club to Rumson. The green line indicates the location of the existing water supply, which runs along the riverbed and will be abandoned, officials said. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

According to officials of the two companies, contractor J.F. Kiley Services, working from the parking lot of the Sea Bright Beach Club, will use horizontal directional drilling technology to bore down and then under Ocean Avenue and the river to the eastern end of Rumson Road.

Though it may call to mind fracking technology, the drilling technique does not employ any toxic chemicals or generate toxic waste, said gas company spokesman Mike Kinney. “It uses a mud as a lube that’s made of naturally occurring elements that are non-toxic,” he said.

Drilling under rivers and wetlands is “not only common, it’s the DEP’s preferred way of doing this,” Kinney said, referring to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

For the gas company, the aim of project, which calls for 1,406 feet of 12-inch steel piping, is  to complete a supply circuit “to better mitigate” the impact of service disruptions caused by storms and construction accidents, said Kinney. It’s part of a six-project, $102.5 million system “hardening” approved by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities two years after Hurricane Sandy caused extensive damage in October, 2012.

As its part of the joint project, the water company plans to spend some $2.5 million to run 1,200 feet of 16-inch diameter high-density polyethylene pipe to replace a concrete pipe that runs along the riverbed from Washington Street in Rumson to River Street in Sea Bright, said water company operations superintendent George Bauer.

The existing line, installed in the 1950s, had to be repaired sometime in the 1990s after was struck by an unmoored barge at low tide, Bauer said. It will be abandoned in place, he said.

Water company officials said the connection will enable continued service during events such as the water main break in Little Silver last July that disrupted service to Rumson.

Each company will have its own sub-river opening, Bauer said.

Pipe segments will be “staged” on the lightly-traveled “old” Rumson Road alongside the Route 520 bridge, where they’ll be welded or fused together shortly before being pulled through the new opening, officials of both companies said.

At no point will homeowners lose driveway access, Rumson Administrator Tom Rogers told redbankgreen via email Monday. Additionally, he said, officials don’t expect road closures to last “more than the time it takes to string out the pipes, assemble them and pull them thru to Sea Bright. The drilling itself, which takes the longest, will not require major closures.”

Sea Bright residents and passersby, meantime, won’t experience any disruption as the construction activity is entirely limited to the beach club parking lot, said Kinney and Bauer.

Still, Mayor John Ekdahl said the companies are under the gun to complete the work before the start of the summer beach season. “We have a short window to do this,” Bauer acknowledged.

Denise Venuti Free, a spokeswoman for the water company, said the project is currently slated to begin on March 7 and be completed by April 21, but that the timetable is dependent on the issuance of permits by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers.

According to DEP spokesman Larry Hajna, the gas company applied for three permits last August, and has obtained two, with the third pending. The water company’s permit application was filed in December and is under review, Hajna said. A spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers said permit applications are under review.