NJ Natural Gas Replacing Gas Regulators in Red Bank
Though the gas company is locked with Red Bank in a lawsuit over above-ground regulators, it set to work replacing below-ground regulators in the mean time.
While New Jersey Natural Gas and Red Bank are locked in a contentious lawsuit over the right to install bulky — and unsightly, according to some — gas regulators above ground, the utility is shoring up its service by replacing its current, underground regulators throughout the borough's downtown.
NJNG crews were out in force Friday, parking about a half-dozen of the utility's vehicles on Monmouth Street, as they began the process of replacing the 88 below-ground gas regulators stretched out over the bulk of the borough's downtown.
According to representatives with the utility, the underground gas regulators degrade more rapidly over time than ones above ground, thanks in part to the erosion caused by leaking water and consistent dampness found below street level.
In March, Red Bank denied the gas company's application for permits to install above-ground regulators on the sidewalks, replacing the under-ground regulators with 2- to 3-foot tall regulators topside.
The reason for the denial was made public when Mayor Pat Menna, flanked by other municipal officials as well as State Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-11, also a borough resident, held a news conference to oppose the utility's plan. Menna said the above-ground regulators are unsightly — an unwanted contrast to the borough's carefully maintained aesthetic — and were more at risk of tampering and vandalism than those underground.
On the same day Red Bank explained its reasoning for the permit denial, NJNG filed suit against the borough in Monmouth County Superior Court alleging that the decision to deny the permits was arbitrary and capricious and in violation of federal law requiring utility companies to maintain safe, working systems.
Though NJNG said corrosion of the underground regulators could lead to gas leaks, borough officials wondered why concern for the below-ground regulators, which had been in place for 20 years, suddenly arose after so long.
The complaint filed by NJNG argues that the regulator replacement is necessary based on a 2009 inspection that revealed that of 85 regulator pits inspected, 58 were in unsatisfactory condition. Of that total, two regulators were leaking gas and immediately replaced. The problem, officials said, is that NJNG was not forthcoming with its reports, nor did it attempt to offer any sort of alternative to the above-ground regulators.
"NJNG has refused to share its research on underground alternatives with the public or local governing body," Beck, who's sponsoring a bill that requires gas utilities to be transparent and communicate with the public when it replaces regulators, said in a statement. "(The court) asks the same question that Red Bank officials and I have been asking: why is above-ground relocation the only option available to NJNG to prevent safety hazards when the regulators have been repaired and operating for 20 years without incident underground?"
With a lawsuit delaying the replacement process, NJNG filed for injunctive relief against the borough to allow them to install the above-ground regulators. The court ruled in favor of Red Bank late in June, leaving it in the hands of a judicial process that could take months to resolve. With a fix still needed for the downtown's gas regulators, NJNG took their work underground once again.
There's no timetable for the replacement to be completed, though in a letter to customers, NJNG said it plans on replacing each of the 88 underground gas regulators in downtown Red Bank.