Pinelands Commissioners Reject Gas Pipeline Proposal


By Lauren Wanko

They’re calling it a great victory.

“I’m still processing it all. It’s a really a great day,” said Michael Sheridan.

Opponents of the 22-mile natural gas pipeline proposed to run through portions of the Pinelands applauded this morning, after New Jersey Pinelands commissioners rejected the proposal in a 7 to 7 vote.

When asked if he was surprised by how the commissioners voted, Chairman Mark Lohbauer said, “Well in a way. I certainly was unsure of how they outcome was gonna go. I do know the commissioners were weighing this heavily and thoughtfully for months.”

“What the Pinelands Commission did today was really stood up for the rule of law, stood up for the environment and stood up for the people of New Jersey,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.

South Jersey Gas would have run the gas line through the forest — primarily along Route 49. The company planned to extend a high pressure line to the BL England Power Plant in Cape May County.

“This project was really being put forth by South Jersey Gas Company, a private entity. They were joined in application by NJ BPU, which on surface gave the idea that this is a governmental entity, but many of us felt it wasn’t a governmental entity application but a private entity and therefore shouldn’t be entitled to access of the Memorandum of Agreement exception,” explained New Jersey Pinelands Commission Chairman Mark Lohbauer.

South Jersey Gas Vice President Robert Fatzinger wouldn’t speak to NJTV on-camera, but released this statement: “We were disappointed with what happened today. We think South Jersey Gas took the right approach. We believe this decision is not in the the best interest of both our customers and the residents of South Jersey.”

Fourteen of the 15 commissioners voted on the proposed agreement today. One of the Commission members was required to recuse himself from voting. The Pinelands Commission requires eight votes to pass a measure.

“We had commissioners that stood by their guns and regardless of who they’re appointed by voted their conscience and voted to protect the Pinelands and that deserves a lot of praise,” said Doug O’Malley of Environment New Jersey.

As for South Jersey Gas, Fatzinger says the company is evaluating its options.

  • Tony O’Donnell

    Thank you to the seven Commissioners who voted “No” on this plan. And to Commissioner Lloyd as well, who was a certain 8th “No” vote but was forced to recuse himself as a result of some questionable actions on the part of Governor Christie’s Attorney General’s office and the Pinelands Ethics Liaison Officer (Ms. Roth). While the current pipeline plan is dead as a result of today’s vote, someone needs to follow up on the recusal issue and find out who was lying here in a foolish attempt to mislead Commissioner Lloyd into believing that the State Ethics Commission had issued a ruling that he must recuse, when in fact THEY HAD DONE NO SUCH THING.

    It is important to note the rationale given by each of the Commissioners today who cast a “No” vote on the MOA. SJ Gas is still eligible to apply for the exact same project by requesting a Waiver of Strict Compliance from the Commission (different than an MOA). It is not entirely clear from the reasons given by some of the Commissioners casting “No” votes today that they would not vote favorably on a Waiver of Strict Compliance. So, environmentalists and opponents of this MOA need to be careful not to “spike the football” too hard…this battle today was a win, but it does not mean the war is over.

    Getting back to the pipeline MOA issue voted on today, I was against this plan for several reasons. The most important reason is that other more suitable alternatives surely exist to achieve the energy redundancy that SJ Gas claims is needed. These alternatives will certainly be more expensive, but they can nonetheless be achieved without compromising the Comprehensive Management plan that has served the Pinelands well for over 30 years now. Proponents of the MOA have wrongly accused environmentalists as being “anti-energy” throughout this process. If they had listened more closely, they would have heard opponents saying that “we are not against energy infrastructure, as long as it conforms to the CMP.”

    So, it is time to get back to the drawing board for SJ Gas. If the redundancy need is as pressing as claimed, it is time to examine routes to convert the BL England plant that will be able to conform to the CMP, or that avoid the Pinelands area entirely.