As it faces off with over the right for the gas utility to install above-ground gas regulators on downtown sidewalks, Red Bank Council approved two amended ordinances Wednesday night that would block anything similar from happening again.
The amended ordinances, under the borough’s planning and development regulations, dealt with the impact of sidewalk utility installations. In an effort to protect sidewalks and walking right of ways, the borough requires several seemingly impossible conditions for utilities to install switch boxes, pumping stations, electrical substations, water towers and now two foot-tall above-ground gas regulators.
Utilities must provide adequate fencing, sufficient landscaping, attractive screening and cannot impede sidewalks, according to the ordinances.
Though NJNG was not named specifically in the amended ordinances, nor did council mention the utility at the public meeting, the amendment is aimed specifically at preventing regulators from being installed on downtown sidewalks.
“It’s just good government,” Mayor Pat Menna with a wry smile said following the meeting.
NJNG has sought to replace all of the downtown’s 88 gas regulators, which are currently located in chambers under the sidewalk, with above-ground ones. The borough, joined by Red Bank resident and State Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-12, fought against the plan, saying that not only are the above-ground regulators unsightly and pose a risk to pedestrians, but that the gas utility failed to investigate possible alternatives to above-ground regulators.
Red Bank’s refusal to issue permits for the work led to NJNG suing the borough in Monmouth County Superior Court. According to court documents, NJNG said it has a federal obligation to maintain its equipment as best it can and that underground regulators are prone to water damage and corrosion, which could lead to regulators failing and leaking gas.
The suit is still pending.
Menna took to his Facebook page to justify the council’s decision to amend its two ordinances Wednesday night.
“In an effort to preserve our brick sidewalk from blatant destruction by state monopolies, the Council approved and adopted my proposed ordinance that requires anyone including utilities to seek application and plan approval prior to excavating and placing any permanent impediment in the public sidewalk right of way,” he wrote. “We have spent too much to create a unique downtown to not protect it from utility monopolies bent on destroying what we have.”
The key points to the amended ordinances:
- Sidewalk installations must conform to the general character of the area.
- Screening must be provided for installations
- Sidewalk installations must not encroach or interfere with the use of public sidewalks.
- Any sidewalk installation that encroaches or may impact sidewalk right of way requires conditional use approval.
Since Friday, NGNJ has had numerous trucks in downtown Red Bank as workers replace every single one of the underground regulators with new ones. The gas utility’s decision to replace every underground regulator while it fights for approval to install above-ground regulators is the result of need, Menna said.
The underground gas regulators have not been properly maintained. If they had, he insinuated, the push for above-ground regulators would have never happened.