By Lauren Wanko
“Just Say No,” “Just Vote No.” Just a few of the signs opponents this morning brought to the New Jersey Pinelands Commission meeting. The policy committee joined today to discuss a proposed agreement that would permit South Jersey Gas to construct a 22-mile natural gas pipeline through portions of the Pinelands.
“I ask you please don’t pimp the Pinelands,” said Martha Wright, a pipeline opponent from Avalon. “The Pinelands have been repeatedly violated but just because it’s been done before doesn’t mean it’s right to do it again.”
The gas line would run through the forest — primarily along Route 49 — from Cumberland to Cape May counties. South Jersey Gas plans to extend a high pressure line to the BL England power plant in Cape May County. The coal- and oil-fired generators would be converted to a gas plant. The DEP ordered the plant’s coal- and oil-fired generators to be shut down because of pollutants. The DEP says it’s one of the most polluting power plants in New Jersey.
“We really need to construct this pipeline for two primary proposes. The first is to provide service for the BL England facility. The second is to improve reliability to our customers in Cape May and Atlantic counties. We have approximately 140,000 customers that are currently at risk with our current system if we have an event happen on our existing pipelines,” said South Jersey Gas Senior Vice President of Engineering and System Integrity Robert Fatzinger.
Right now the pipeline isn’t permitted under the New Jersey Pinelands Commission rules because it does not primarily serve the needs of the Pinelands in the forest area. That’s why the commission is considering a memorandum of agreement or MOA that would permit the construction of the pipeline. Some commissioners today said they had major issues with the MOA.
“I think our view, our job is to protect the Pinelands and I think we best do that by one, not using an MOA process and two, holding applicants to the highest standards of compelling public need,” said Pinelands Commission member Edward Lloyd.
Under the MOA, South Jersey Gas would provide about $8 million to the commission, most of which would be used to permanently preserve lands along the pipeline route.
“Please do not sell your soul and the tradition and integrity for that money,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.
One commission member today said he’s worried about the public perception of the Commission.
“Their perception is that we’re being paid off in order to allow this to happen and that’s why I kept bringing up the issue. Our appearance is really bad for the people I have lunch with,” said Pinelands Commission member Robert Jackson.
Opponents worry about the environmental impacts.
“I think we’ve done the best we can to minimize the impacts on the environment we are building this pipeline through the Pinelands forest area almost entirely within the roadway of Route 49 so in our view through the studies we’ve done we have not or will not be having any major impact to the Pinelands area,” Fatzinger said.
The New Jersey Pinelands Commission scheduled a public hearing on the proposal on Dec. 9.