Monday, January 19, 2015

Section 106 review for a rural historic landscape: Elsinboro and Lower Alloways Creek

A new nuclear plant is proposed for the Artificial Island site in Salem County, where three reactors and a cooling tower already exist.This is hard to imagine in the light of what happened at Fukushima, but nevertheless, PSEG has put in an application for an early site permit, which is essentially a site plan review. It's a first step, and if granted, the permit is good for 20 years, within which time the utility may or may not actually build it. And further permits are needed, such as for the specific reactor design. So what would earn this a place in my blog on researching the cultural landscape of Down Jersey?

View of the Salem Nuclear Plant at Artificial Island from Mason Point

The reason is that the project requires a permit from two Federal agencies: the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Army Corps of Engineer. Therefore, the approval process triggers a review under Section (106) of the National Historic Preservation Act. Potential impacts of the undertaking on properties listed or eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places must be taken into account, and either avoided with alternative designs or mitigated with benefits to the public. The agency handling the Section 106 is the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).

On the surrounding landscape, there are a number of such properties, mostly in Elsinboro township, but also in Lower Alloways Creek Township, both lying along the Delaware River. Two kinds of effects have been identified so far.  One is the visual effects of two new cooling towers on this, flat, rural landscape. Another is the effect of the construction and use of a new, three lane highway running north from the Island across tidal marsh up to and following Money Island Road. The new cooling towers will stand next the existing one but rise 40 feet higher. The roadway will run on a 48' wide elevated causeway over the tidal marsh and a 200' right-of-way on Money Island Road, requiring considerable widening of this quiet back road and possibly the addition of other structures such as a drainage system, guiderails, and signals where it would terminate at Mason Point Road. Such structural and operational changes will drastically alter the landscape experience at Mason Point. The increase in daily traffic during construction and during future daily commuting of Island workers is another thing that will change daily life in Elsinboro--noise, fumes, safety--a general disruption of the daily peace in this sleepy township.

Proposed access road from Artificial Island to Mason Point.

Whether or not this scenario will actually happen is a big IF, but if it does, the review process is a powerful way to influence the outcome. Mitigation measures will be negotiated between the SHPO and PSEG. This could result in benefits to or for historic properties that would otherwise not happen. In addition, because the Abel and Mary Nicholson House is a National Historic Landmark, a higher level of review is required and perhaps more extensive mitigation.

I was given "interested party" status for the Section 106 review. I expressed concern to the staff at the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office after the project came to my attention and I read through the Early Permit Draft Environmental Impact Study ( It seemed to me that some resources and impacts were overlooked. So I ended up getting invited to a meeting of PSEG, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and SHPO representatives on January 9.

So, now, the fieldwork! Yes, there was fieldwork. After discussing the permitting process (which is quite complex) we took to the road and visited eligible and potentially eligible properties that came to light during the review. Three of the five were properties we saw were ones I suggested. Four were not initially detected in PSEG's DEIS. The purposes of the visits were to help the SHPO determine eligibility and to assess the visual affects of the new towers from each. This review has a ways to go before it's done. If any readers have information to share on these houses, please let me know by leaving a comment below. Thanks.

John Goodwin Mason-Edward Waddington House, built in the late 18th century, and presently used as PSEG's field office for education and outreach. It would fall within or very near the access road right-of way.
Sarah Mason House on Fort Elfsborg Road, Italianate with a pattern-brick core. Cooling tower is seen left of center.

Morris-Goodwin House, next door, despite modern cladding, dates from the mid-18th century with a log house core and a pattern brick shed addition. It was recorded  by HABS in the 1940s.

Abel and Mary Nicholson House, a National Historic Landmark built in 1722. It was preserved during the PSEG Estuary Enhancement Project in the 1990s.

John Denn House on Poplar Street in Lower Alloways Creek, built 1725.

116 Mason Point Road, probably built late 18th century, and possibly related to the Mason family.

View of the cooling tower from 116 Mason Point Road.

View from 116 Mason Point Road to the John Mason House, built 1695/1704. There, the access road would terminate.