200 overflow Galloway chambers for gas pipeline hearing

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For most of the six-hour hearing it was standing room only and more, with people waiting in the hallway for their turns to speak. For most of the six-hour hearing it was standing room only and more, with people waiting in the hallway for their turns to speak.

GALLOWAY – More than 150 people spoke during a five-hour hearing on a memorandum of agreement that would allow the South Jersey Gas to run a 22-mile natural gas pipeline through the Pinelands Monday, Dec. 9 that occasionally became contentious.

While speakers opposed the pipeline by more than a 2-1 ratio, applause was fairly equal for opinions expressed on both sides.

The council chambers-courtroom at the Municipal Complex was standing room only from before the 5 p.m. start until the meeting was terminated at 11 p.m., and a line of people stretched into the hallway.

The hearing was conducted by Nancy Wittenberg, executive director of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission, who said that 10.2 miles of the pipeline would be in a Forest Management Area and not be in conformance with commission regulations.

“Commission staff are here to listen,” Wittenberg said. “Comments and responses will go into a report by to the commission board which will make a decision on the agreement.”

People had to register to speak and each speaker was allotted three minutes. People could also submit written testimony for or against the project whether they chose to speak or not.

A second and final public hearing on the proposed pipeline agreement which would actually be between the Pinelands Commission and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities will be held 9 a.m. Friday, Dec. 13 at the commission’s office, 15 Springfield Road, New Lisbon, where evidence can also delivered through 5 p.m. Friday.

“The MOA includes measures intended to afford an equivalent level of protection for the resources of the Pinelands that would be afforded through strict application of the forest area permitted use standards,” according to the commission. “Through this MOA, BPU would require South Jersey Gas to fund acquisition of lands adjacent to the pipeline, and expansion of the commission’s education and public outreach programs, including construction of a Pinelands education center within the Richard J. Sullivan Center at the Pinelands Commission’s offices.”

The agreement would authorize the construction of approximately 15 miles of a 22-mile, 24-inch, high-pressure natural gas transmission line that would provide natural gas to allow the repowering of the B.L. England Plant in Beesley’s Point.

It would also address the vulnerability of the southernmost portion of the South Jersey Gas service territory to a single-feed disruption.

“The proposed gas pipeline would traverse through portions of both the state-designated Pinelands Area and the Pinelands National Reserve,” according to the commission website. “With regard to the portion in the Pinelands area, the proposal is to construct approximately 15-miles of pipeline beneath existing paved portions and/or disturbed shoulders of existing roads. Approximately 10.2 miles of the proposed pipeline would be located within a Pinelands-designated Forest Area, 2 miles within a Pinelands designated Rural Development Area and 2.8 miles in a Pinelands Village.”

Arguments against the pipeline at Monday’s hearing  included damaging the environment, risks including leaks and explosions and procedural items – like not having an independent environmental impact study conducted.

An $8 million payment by South Jersey Gas was called a bribe by many opponents of the plan.

Proponents of the plan among the 200-plus attendees, including a South Jersey Gas spokesman, cited the importance of meeting South Jersey’s energy needs and the jobs associated with constructing the pipeline and operating the B.L. England Plant.

A number of union members spoke in behalf of the plant.

Opponents said the construction jobs were short term, while the problems were long term.

Many opposed limiting people’s time to speak.

When some continued past the three minutes allowed others vocally urged them to continue while others shouted that their time was up.

Wittenberg mostly maintained order, and when she was ignored uniformed Galloway Ptl. Kevin Jorgensen enforced the limit with verbal instructions, having to move forward to directly confront only a few speakers with backup from plainclothes Detective Ryan Goehringer.

Dan Lockwood of South Jersey Gas said the pipeline would be a “chance to address our customers’ needs and our own infrastructure needs at the same time.”

“The pipeline would run under highways where it would have the least impact,” he said. “It would be under stringent guidelines with constant monitoring.”

There would be no problems in the forest area, he said.

“Pipelines don’t all break,” Lockwood said. “Most last decades and are decommissioned at the end of their natural lifespan.”

Union representative Pat Sheridan said he had environmental concerns as well as many of the speakers.

“But natural gas is cleaner today,” he said. “Other solutions are not really options.”

Former pipeline worker Joe Sykes said all lines are held to high standards.

“Most of the accidents were right after World War II,” he said. “They’re modern now. The jobs created are exceptional. The biggest mistake you could make would be to just say no and listen to people who don’t know what they’re talking about.”

One man said the Pinelands Commission would be acting outside the scope of its charter. Others reminded the commission that it is not “the economic development authority,” but a body dedicated to the preservation of the Pinelands which is above a huge natural aquifer.

A Mays Landing woman said the water was a precious commodity.

“Natural gas, to me, is an oxymoron,” she said. “The gas source is contaminated. All water diffused in fracking is not drinkable.”

Dr. Bob Allen of Upper Township said he was a former union leader.

“I’ve never been on a picket line where we supported the boss,” Allen said. “I would gladly pay a few hundred dollars more for power. That’s nothing compared to possible devastation.”

He joined other opponents including Joel Fogel of Margate in predicting a long legal battle following the Pineland Commission’s decision.

Richard Pella of Tuckahoe said there was also no guarantee that the B.L. England Plant would actually buy the gas. The plant might be shuttered at any time.

Janet Osborne of the Pomona section of Galloway said she lives on a small farm and was there “before it became Pinelands.”

“But I supported that because it was the right thing to do,” she said. “The Pinelands should be protected. I’m not against people having jobs; not against people having heat. But there are better ways.”

Arnold Fishman of Medford Lakes said the memorandum of agreement being considered wasn’t accurate.

“The MOA is so sugar coated,” Fishman said, “You wonder how did the pinelands exist all these years without a pipeline.”

He said he was reminded of Joni Mitchell’s song, “Big Yellow Taxi,” where the trees were all cut down and put in a “tree museum.”

“We don’t need a pinelands education center,” Fishman said. “We need the real thing.”

He also questioned a state agency’s role in the proposal – a necessity of the plan because only state agency’s are allowed to petition for exemptions from Pinelands restrictions.

“The BPU shouldn’t be a shill for South Jersey Gas,” Fishman said. “It won’t cause the problems down the road. It won’t address the problems.”

Photos by Steve Prisament

New Jersey blogger Bill Wolfe is asked to sit by Galloway Ptl. Kevin Jorgensen and Detective Ryan Goehringer. Wolfe used most of his allotted three minutes to dispute the time limit being imposed, and then wanted to discuss the proposed pipeline. New Jersey blogger Bill Wolfe is asked to sit by Galloway Ptl. Kevin Jorgensen and Detective Ryan Goehringer. Wolfe used most of his allotted three minutes to dispute the time limit being imposed, and then wanted to discuss the proposed pipeline.

The three minutes each speaker was allowed was counted down on a screen in the front of the room. The three minutes each speaker was allowed was counted down on a screen in the front of the room.


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