Christie appoints new Pinelands Commission members

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Pipeline opponents see attempt to reverse January vote

TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie nominated two new members to the Pinelands Commission this week.

New Hanover Mayor Dennis Roohr and Robert Barr, president of the Ocean City Democratic Club and the Ocean City Community Association, would replace D’Arcy Rohan Green of Bay Head and Robert Jackson of Middle Township on the commission. In January, Rohan Green and Jackson both voted against a planned natural gas pipeline that would run through the Pinelands to the BL England power plant in Beesleys Point. The 7-7 vote defeated the controversial project.

Opponents of the pipeline see the changes to the Pinelands Commission as an attempt to reverse the January vote. South Jersey Gas has filed a lawsuit in Superior Court, seeking to have the Pinelands Commission rehear the proposal.

Cumberland County Freeholders also recently replaced their Pinelands commissioner, Leslie Ficcaglia, who voted against the pipeline proposal, with Jane Jannarone. Jannarone is a former Democratic freeholder and a real estate agent.

Ficcaglia was the only county representative on the Pinelands Commission to vote against the pipeline.

It is not clear if another member of the Pinelands Commission who questioned the pipeline proposal, but did not take part in the January vote, will have to abstain from future hearings on the project.

Pinelands commissioner Ed Lloyd said earlier this year that he abstained from the January vote after he was asked to recuse himself from the proceedings by a state deputy attorney general. The New Jersey State Ethics Commission ruled in April that Lloyd was right to step down.

The Pinelands Commission voted 7-7 in January against a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) proposed by the state Board of Public Utilities, which would have allowed for the construction of a 22-mile natural gas pipeline from Millville to Beesleys Point. The MOA would have let South Jersey Gas to build the pipeline in return for an $8 million contribution, which would go toward Pinelands preservation and education.

The pipeline came before the Pinelands Commission because 15 miles of it would run through protected Pinelands.

Georgina Shanley, of Ocean City, co-founder of Citizens United for Renewable Energy (CURE), said last week that supporters of the pipeline are trying to overturn a democratic vote and decision. She also questioned why South Jersey Industries was filing suit when it was the BPU that made application to the Pinelands Commission for the pipeline.

The Pinelands Preservation Alliance said in a statement Tuesday that the Pinelands Commission is coming under a lot of pressure to reverse itself on the pipeline. It is urging voters to contact their state senators to urge them to vote against the Pinelands Commission appointments.

Executives with South Jersey Industries, the parent company of South Jersey Gas, said in a conference call with investors earlier this month that they are confident the pipeline will ultimately become a reality.

South Jersey Industries chairman and CEO Ed Graham said Friday, May 9 that a 7-7 vote by the state Pinelands Commission in January stalled the project, but that the company is seeing an “enormous groundswell starting at the governor's office, including the head of the Senate (state Senate president Stephen Sweeney) and actually quite frankly, the biggest and most vocal leader has been Sen. (Jeff) Van Drew who's area was most impacted.”

Graham said the company will respond to some of the suggestions made by commissioners who voted against the pipeline in January and will come back with some modifications to its plan.

“We are incredibly optimistic about the outcome and, in fact, I think it's realistic in our minds that to think that we're going to start to spend money on this project of this magnitude during 2015,” Graham said according to a transcript on the website “…I would very much hope before 2016 ends that would be in service.”

Local and state elected officials have also started a concerted push to have the pipeline approved.

Van Drew and 1st District Assemblymen Bob Andrzejczak and Sam Fiocchi have voiced support for the pipeline, saying it will increase electric and natural gas reliability in the region. It will also help secure 100 jobs at the BL England power plant, they say. Fiocchi is a Republican, Van Drew and Andrzejczak Democrats.

Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo (D-Atlantic) and Atlantic County Freeholder Director Frank Formica have voiced support for the project, and the Cumberland County Board of Freeholders approved a resolution in support.

The Pinelands Commission has 15 voting members. Seven are appointed by the governor and seven are appointed by counties containing protected Pinelands. The U.S. Department of Interior also names a commissioner. 

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