Former governors add voices to local pipeline opposition

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PETERSBURG – Local opponents to a proposed natural gas pipeline through the Pinelands touted support from four former New Jersey governors last week.

Former governors Brendan Byrne, Tom Kean, Christie Whitman and Jim Florio – two Republicans and two Democrats – signed a letter to Pinelands Commission chairman Mark Lohbauer Wednesday, Dec. 18 saying they are against a pending proposal to build the pipeline through the Pinelands.

 

The Pinelands Commission is considering a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) that would allow South Jersey Gas to build the pipeline. The Pinelands Commission would receive $8 million for land acquisition and education programs.

The governors said they oppose the pipeline because it would “compromise the Pinelands plan and serve to encourage future development contrary to the vision the plan sets out for growth and conservation in the Pinelands.”

They said the Pinelands plan will only work if it is implemented consistently. Only then will utility companies change their plans to comply with the Pinelands, according to the letter.

Opponents of the pipeline say the potential precedent of a MOA looms large because of the growth of the natural gas industry due to new “fracking” techniques, and the potential that more pipelines will be built through protected areas.

The BPU held a public hearing on the pipeline last Wednesday. The meeting was moved from the Upper Township library to the municipal building because of expected turnout.

As in previous meetings, the attendance did not disappoint. Local officials, representatives of South Jersey Gas and opponents of the pipeline all spoke.

This specific meeting was held on a petition by South Jersey Gas to override local zoning laws. The pipeline meets standards set by New Jersey and the federal government.

Upper Township resident Bob Allen said that South Jersey Gas wants to “build this pipeline on its own terms.”

“The local peoples, their ordinances and governments be damned,” he said in a prepared statement. “This is not what democracy looks like.”

Bill Wolfe, an environmental blogger and the director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsbility (PEER), said the petition amounted to stripping Upper Township and Maurice River Township of home rule.

According to a map submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the proposed 22-mile pipeline would travel from Millville down Route 49, passing through Maurice River Township, Estell Manor and Upper Township. In Upper Township, the pipeline would turn south from Route 49 onto Cedar Avenue, before the intersection with Route 50. It would then turn east onto Mill Road and Reading Avenue before turning south again onto Mount Pleasant-Tuckahoe Road. It would then turn onto Route 50 and travel through Tuckahoe and Petersburg on Route 631 before turning north and using the power line right-of-way parallel to the train tracks to the B.L. England plant in Beesleys Point.

Along the way the pipeline will pass 49 feet beneath the bottom of Mill Creek and 41 feet beneath Cedar Swamp Creek in Upper Township.

South Jersey Gas has already received approvals from the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU), DEP and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has also said no threatened or endangered species will be affected at the creek crossings.

The New Jersey Sierra Club, the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, and Waterwatch International have come out against the pipeline.

Upper Township Committee and the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders supports the plan.

Mayor Richard Palombo said the township supports the project because it will increase electrical reliability in South Jersey. The BL England power plant will also burn much cleaner using natural gas instead of coal and oil.

“There’s no question converting from oil and coal to natural gas will have a positive impact on the environment,” he said last week. “They are installing all new generators so the plant will operate efficiently and cleanly for the next 25 years.”

The pipeline and power plant will also create jobs in the area, according to Palombo. 

South Jersey Gas contends the BL England plant will be needed to help create a reliable power grid in South Jersey once the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant goes offline by 2019.

According to Dan Lockwood of South Jersey Gas, the company serves 142,000 customers in Cape May and Atlantic counties. There is only one gas pipeline route to the area.

A storm like Hurricane Sandy could disrupt service for months if that pipeline was damaged, he said. Another pipeline would provide more reliable electric and gas service, he said.

The planned pipeline would be “almost completely under or along” Route 49 and Route 50, he said.

 


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