By Brenda Flanagan
The DEP letter offers “regulatory review and guidance” and was requested by South Jersey Gas to evaluate eight different potential routes for their controversial proposed pipeline across New Jersey’s protected Pinelands. It would deliver natural gas to the BL England power plant. The evaluation considered several critical factors, including how much wetlands would be filled in, how many trees cut, how many streams crossed, does it disrupt endangered or threatened species? Based on those considerations, the DEP letter calls Route A “the preferred alternative” — it’s the route South Jersey Gas initially proposed.
“I think we were thrilled that they agreed with us. It’s something I think we knew all along but it really took the DEP’s expertise and ultimately they’re the ones that need to decide whether they will or won’t permit a route. And for them to come and say ‘not only is this the best route, but almost every other routes we wouldn’t permit because there is a better route available’ — and that’s Route A — so we were very happy to get the letter from them,” said South Jersey Gas Senior Vice President Robert Fatzinger.
The pipeline’s drawn intense opposition from environmental groups, concerned it would severely impact the sensitive Pinelands ecology.
In a tie vote, the Pinelands Commission turned thumbs down on the pipeline in January of last year. South Jersey Gas asked DEP to evaluate potential routes that summer. In response to the letter’s recommendation, the Sierra Club’s Jeff Tittel called it “Incomplete. They have to look at ‘no-build’ alternatives and they
have to weigh that no building is allowed in the Pinelands Forest Preservation areas.”
The letter also dismissed a route proposed by the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.
Assistant Executive Director Jaclyn Rhoads said, “We’re not surprised, considering all this time they’ve got invested in Route A. It’s too much work for them to go back and reevaluate other routes with less impact. The evaluations can be skewed in a way that directs them back to the original route. It raises lots of questions as to how complete and thorough this is.”
The letter doesn’t say whether South Jersey Gas plans to resubmit a pipeline proposal. But the Alliance calls the letter a ploy — to bring the application back to the Pinelands Commission, which has a new member appointed by Gov. Chris Christie.