By John Burton
RED BANK – The ongoing legal tussle with the borough and the downtown business alliance notwithstanding, New Jersey Natural Gas has begun this week to replace the belowground equipment with new belowground equipment, through much of the downtown area.
The gas company has started replacing the 88 gas regulators for commercial properties along much of Broad, Monmouth and White streets and other locations in the business district, according to Michael Kinney, a gas company spokesman.
“We identified a safety concern and we are taking a proactive step to replace the regulators,” Kinney said on Monday.
Regulators channel the high-pressure gas, reducing the pressure so they can be used by commercial customers. Through much of the downtown the regulators are located below grade in pits and covered by a metal grating. New Jersey Natural Gas has been seeking to have them removed from the pits and installed aboveground next to the buildings they service.
Borough officials and Red Bank RiverCenter, the business alliance, has objected to the gas company’s plan to put the approximately knee-high metal piping and gauged devices on the sidewalk, because, they allege, it would negatively impact the area’s aesthetics that RiverCenter and property owners have worked on for more than the 20 years of redevelopment. The aboveground equipment will also create another potential hazard for pedestrians, they say.
New Jersey Natural Gas has insisted the change is for safety considerations as some of the belowground equipment has been affected by corrosion.
Borough officials have refused to issue work orders to allow gas company workers to relocate the devices, and the gas company has gone to court to look to override the local decision. A Superior Court judge recently dismissed the gas company’s request for injunctive relief to move forward with the replacement and the parties will have to appear before the judge for a full hearing at some point in the future.
This step is an “interim measure,” until New Jersey Natural Gas can get that hearing, Kinney said. The company would also conduct weekly inspections on the equipment.
The project is expected to take three weeks and cost roughly $150,000, according to Kinney. “This is extraordinary as we expect to replace them again with aboveground regulators,” he said.
“So, if they’re replacing them with state-of-the-art stuff, why will they have to replace them again?” asked Mayor Pasquale Menna, acknowledging he’s perplexed by the company’s actions. But he maintained the borough would continue to oppose putting them aboveground.
New Jersey Natural Gas doesn’t need local approval to replace the existing equipment, both Kinney and Menna said.