Legislators too late on Pinelands pipeline

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To the editor:

After eight months of active participation by New Jersey residents in demonstrating their opposition to the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) and South Jersey Gas application for a gas pipeline through the Pine Barrens, and after a vote by the Pinelands Commission denying it, here comes state Sen. Jeff Van Drew and Assemblyman Robert Andrzejczak rattling their sabers and throwing down the gauntlet to challenge this ruling. At no point in the process did they raise their voices, and at no time did they publicly weigh in on the issue.

Just like we saw with the Cape May Freeholders as well as the Upper Township Committee passing a resolution to allow the pipeline, these elected officials are trying to subvert the democratic process, and encourage the violation of the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) of the Pinelands Commission. “This was a devastatingly bad decision by the Pinelands Commission and…I will do all that we possibly can to make it right”, according to Sen. Van Drew.

The BPU took on the task of fronting South Jersey Gas in applying for an exception – Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) - to the management plan of the Pinelands Commission in order to get a high pressured pipeline through protected forest. How can a government regulatory agency be allowed to represent a for-profit corporation that it regulates in the first place?

The intergovernmental MOA provision is explicitly for “public development” and should only benefit the people of the Pinelands. The application has to be made by an “agency of the federal, state or local government” N.J.A.C. 7:50-4.52(c), since the Pinelands are under the auspices of the Department of the Interior, State of New Jersey and municipal governments. Under the CMP, private businesses like South Jersey Gas may only obtain approval for development using a Waiver of Strict Compliance, which has a much higher standard including an Environmental Impact Study, than the MOA.  

Mr. Van Drew and Mr. Andrzejczak are flying in the face of their constituents and the forest, over 30,000 of whom signed a petition opposing the project, and 42 organizations throughout the state signed on to a letter in opposition. The first and only obligation of the Pinelands Commission is to the Comprehensive Management Plan – to protect, enhance and preserve the Pinelands.

I would expect elected officials to follow this mandate. It’s astonishing that two South Jersey representatives would be the ones to take this onerous step towards the destruction of the Pinelands just to provide 75 jobs for nine months, and who knows what political contributions! We need new politicians who will focus on jobs through renewable energy-wind, solar and tidal. Preserve our Pine Barrens and the 17 trillion gallons of fresh aquifer water.

Georgina Shanley           

Ocean City

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