LRWP Comments on Proposed Settlement Agreement for NRD – Kinder Morgan

May 18, 2021

Dave Bean / NJDEP: Office of Natural Resource Restoration

501 East State Street, Mail Code 501-01 / PO Box 420 / Trenton, NJ  08625-0420

RE:         Proposed Settlement Agreement for Natural Resource Damages, in the Matter of Kinder Morgan, Inc. and Related Entities – HEADGATES DAM REMOVAL PROJECT

Dear Dave Bean:

The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP) is writing to express full and enthusiastic support for the proposed settlement agreement for Natural Resources Damages in the Matter of Kinder Morgan as it relates to the Headgates Dam Removal Project in Hillsborough Township, Somerset County. We understand this project to include restoration activities that will significantly enhance habitat connectivity, improve water quality, and expand recreational opportunities for the Lower Raritan River and Watershed.

The LRWP formed in 2014 to address legacy contamination and current pollution in the Raritan River and the Lower Raritan Watershed. Our mission is to conserve, enhance and restore the natural resources of the New Jersey Watershed Management Area 9, the Lower Raritan Watershed. Specifically regarding the proposed interventions to replace and relocate of a section of the Bridgewater Township 54-inch sanitary sewer line, replace the Raritan Water Power Canal, and remove the Headgates Dam, these activities will not only directly improve resources impacted by legacy contamination, but will benefit a broad spectrum of the Raritan River’s ecology and enable other environmental and human use benefits. Significant ecological, environmental and human use benefits have in fact already been realized following recent removal of a series of dams (Robert Street, Nevius Street, and Calco) on the lower portion of the Raritan River between the towns of Bridgewater and Bound Brook. We expect the proposed restoration activities for the Headgates Dam Removal Project to likewise advance multiple Lower Raritan Watershed stakeholder goals.

The LRWP is also aware that these interventions will expand access to several thousand acres of non-tidal freshwater mid to upper reaches of the Raritan River’s major tributaries. Removal of Headgates Dam in particular will enhance maturation and rearing habitat for striped bass, American shad, American eel, blueback herring, and alewife, and should significantly increase the abundance of anadromous and catadromous species, which will improve the ecological health of the Raritan River.

The LRWP’s only concerns with the proposal are short term sediment transport impacts following dam removal. However, we are confident that sound planning to reduce potential environmental consequences will be put in place, and further expect that the proposed projects will provide long term restorative benefits to water chemistry, specifically decreased water temperatures in formerly impounded sections, and increased dissolved oxygen concentrations. These changes will benefit riverine biota from the most basic food chain level up to the top predators for many years to come.

Enhancing fish populations in the Raritan River system is important for fresh and marine ecosystems. It is especially appropriate as the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) lists the estuarine portion of the Raritan River as an important migratory pathway for anadromous alewife and blueback herring, species which NOAA lists as of special concern. The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership feels that the proposed projects could help to reverse declining population trends, and anadromous fish returning to spawn each spring in the Raritan River provide an attraction to the general public in the Raritan River Basin. The removal of Headgates Dam is important to the LRWP, and we fully support the proposed projects.

Sincerely,

Heather Fenyk, Ph.D., AICP/PP

President, Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership

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