New Jersey Natural Gas proposes to construct training facility in Howell

HOWELL – New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) has identified property at 401 Fairfield Road, Howell, where it wants to construct a training facility for its employees.

To that end, NJNG has applied to the Howell Planning Board for preliminary and final major site plan approval to construct a 30,000-square-foot, two-story building at the location. NJNG is the contract purchaser of the undeveloped 17-acre parcel.

Attorney Nancy Skidmore, of the firm Connell Foley, and Brian Decina, senior vice president and site engineering services manager with French and Parrello Associates, presented the application during the board’s June 6 meeting.

The building would include classrooms, testing areas, offices, storage space and an auditorium, as well as outdoor areas, which would be used for federally mandated operator qualification training of utility workers engaging in work on public utility gas infrastructure, according to a legal notice published prior to the meeting by Skidmore.

The property on Fairfield Road is in Howell’s special economic development zone and Skidmore said the proposed use is permitted in the zone.

According to the legal notice, training at the proposed facility would incorporate all aspects of underground pipeline construction, pipeline integrity inspection and maintenance, and emergency response to potential gas emergencies.

The proposed outdoor training area, which Decina said has been dubbed “Safety Town,” will permit real world simulations of a neighborhood streetscape, including above-ground and below-ground utility facilities, plus shed-like structures to simulate buildings and homes with various appliances, gas meters and other equipment incorporated into the overall public utility distribution system.

Decina said access to the property would be from Fairfield Road. He said a gate on the driveway would control access to the training facility and an 8-foot-tall fence would surround the site. NJNG is proposing to service the facility with well water and an on-site sewer system, according to the testimony.

According to the legal notice, all employees will typically work between about 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays. Community fire department/emergency response training may occur at the site on weekends or after normal business hours during the week.

As part of the application, NJNG is seeking design waivers/exceptions and a possible variance from Howell’s land use ordinance. In brief, the requested design waivers/exceptions relate to lighting on the site, tree replacement, a sidewalk on Fairfield Road and landscaping, among other issues.

No members of the public asked Decina any questions about the proposed training facility when given the opportunity to do so. Testimony on the NJNG application is expected to resume at the board’s July 18 meeting.