By Brenda Flanagan
“Shame! Shame! Shame on you!”
Angry jeers from 600 very vocal protesters made the final tally hard to hear, but the Pinelands Commission voted 9 to 5 — with one abstention — to permit a controversial, 22-mile-long natural gas pipeline to pass through the heart of its preserved forest. Some opponents reacted with rage.
“The people who voted for this pipeline are evil doers,” said former New Jersey Sierra Club Policy Director Bill Wolfe.
“This is disgusting! The people on this commission don’t represent the people in these counties that the Pinelands are in. And this is pathetic,” said Tara Cattell of Moorestown.
People slammed the process — public comments actually followed today’s vote. In fact, this pipeline proposal by South Jersey Gas — to supply the BL England power plant — took a tortured path through multiple court and public battles. The commission voted it down three years ago, but critics claim Gov. Chris Christie replaced no votes with yes men.
“Everyone who voted yes to this project — you’re absolutely contemptible. The new appointees to the commission are obvious puppets,” said Mike Neuhaus of Bordentown.
“I’ve never seen a board violate their oath of office, violate the mission of the agency they work for, to push through this pipeline for Gov. Christie’s cronies. This is a sell-out of the Pinelands,” said New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel.
“Christie is here yes, but Christie is on his way out! You better be careful because the grass is burning at the roots, and you’re all going to get burned,” said Martha Veselka of People Over Pipelines.
Commissioners who voted yes made no public statements beforehand, but the agency did permit other pipelines for South Jersey Gas, and supporters said the project would create jobs and generate power for 142,000 residents. But the five no votes noted half of this pipeline passes through highly restricted forest area and over pristine drinking water for 1 million South Jersey residents. And they claimed it does not meet the Comprehensive Management Plan’s golden rule.
“It frowns on that development and it sets a very high bar for us to follow when we consider it. It tells us that such development must — quote — ‘primarily serve only the needs of the Pinelands,’” said Mark Lohbauer, former chairman of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission.
South Jersey Gas said it “appreciates the constructive dialogue,” noting the vote enables it “…to support energy reliability for Cape May and Atlantic counties while continuing to responsibly operate our infrastructure throughout the Pinelands, as we have for decades.”
“The law and the rules are very clear. It’s a comprehensive management plan, it’s not a compromise,” Tittel said. “We sued you once. We’re going to sue you again!”
So, after years of political drama and public outcry — and even after today’s vote to approve it — the Pinelands pipeline project is apparently headed back to court.