Makeup of Pinelands Commission Awaits Barr’s Confirmation Hearing

With the fate of a natural gas pipeline and the pine barrens in the balance, the Senate Judiciary Committee has voted to confirm Gov. Chris Christie’s nominee for a three-year term on the Pinelands Commission. Robert Barr’s controversial appointment was nixed twice before but the third time’s the charm. What could it mean for the contentious Pinelands pipeline proposal? NJTV News Correspondent Brenda Flanagan told Anchor Mary Alice Williams the proposed pipeline by South Jersey Gas would run on the eastern side of the Pinelands, would be two feet wide and run about 22 miles, buried 50 feet underground.

Flanagan said that the Pinelands Commission has been tasked with protecting the area because it sits on two major drinking water sources.

“The Pinelands Commission’s charged with protecting the integrity of the pine barrens because it sits on top of two major drinking water aquifers for South Jersey,” said Flanagan. “There’s the flash point. Gov. Christie and the Board of Public Utilities are both in favor of this proposed pipeline because they say it’s crucial to keep energy flowing. Environmentalists look at it as a potential disaster if there’s a fuel spill into the drinking water.”

The Pinelands Commission controls the fate of the pipeline and about a year ago the commission voted no on the proposed pipeline. Critics now say the governor is trying to remake the commission to essentially stack it with commissioners who would vote in favor of the pipeline. Only one or two votes could make a difference if the vote on the pipeline comes up again, according to Flanagan.

About a year ago, the vote on the pipeline went 7 to 7, split in the middle with one abstention. In order for the pipeline to pass, it would require eight votes.

Since then, Christie has decided not to reappoint two commissioners who had voted against the pipeline, and has instead nominated two new candidates. One of the nominees, Barr, had been asked by the Senate Judiciary Committee about the pipeline and said that he had no preconceived notion about the pipeline.

NJTV News tried to get in contact with Barr, but was unable to.

New Jersey Sierra Club President Jeff Tittel said that Barr’s nomination could change the balance on the board of the Pinelands Commission.

“This could tip the balance on the Pinelands Commission and change it from a balanced board that looks at preserving natural resources, while allowing for a certain amount of economic development that’s compatible. And my concern is that it’s going to change that balance to where the Pinelands Commission is going to be more about development and special interest and less about conservation,” said Tittel.

Barr still has to go before the full Senate for conformation. Meanwhile the Pinelands Commission said that there is no proposal on the pipeline scheduled for the next meeting.