South Jersey Industries executives confident of pipeline approval

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UPPER TOWNSHIP – Executives with South Jersey Industries, the parent company of South Jersey Gas, said in a conference call with investors last week that they are confident that a 22-mile natural gas pipeline from Millville to the BL England power plant in Beesleys Point 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 Senator (Jeff) Van Drew who's area was most impacted.”

The pipeline came before the Pinelands Commission because 15 miles of it will run through protected Pinelands. The state Board of Public Utilities proposed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Pinelands Commission to allow South Jersey Gas to build the pipeline in return for an $8 million contribution, which would go toward Pinelands preservation and education.

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 SeekingAlpha. “…I would very much hope before 2016 ends that would be in service.”

The company has remained silent about its plans for the pipeline in public. Last month, a spokesman for South Jersey Gas told The Gazette that the company is reviewing its options in regards to the pipeline.

The company has filed a lawsuit with the state Appellate Division, seeking to have the Pinelands Commission rehear the proposal. 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.

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.

Cumberland County freeholders also replaced Pinelands commissioner Leslie Ficcaglia, who voted against the Memorandum of Agreement, with Jane Jannarone, according to reports. Jannarone is a former Democratic freeholder and a real estate agent.

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.

With the 7-7 vote so close, opponents of the pipeline see the recent moves as a tactic to get Pinelands Commission approval.

Georgina Shanley, co-founder of Citizens United for Renewable Energy (CURE), said 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.

“According to the rules of the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) only a government entity can submit an application…for infrastructure change,” she said. “The BPU was that public entity. Now, the veil is lifted and its been a for-profit corporation all along that is behind the application.”

She said the company wants it both ways.

“A covert application and if that doesn't work go after the commission through the courts,” she said.

Shanley and members of the Don’t Gas Our Pinelands group held an Earth Day rally at the Beesleys Point beach against the proposed pipeline. She said the group is working on plans to stop the pipeline again. 

The BL England power plant was required by an Administrative Consent Order with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to shut down one coal burner. It planned to repower a second coal burner and an oil burning unit with natural gas as part of a $400 million conversion plan.

The pipeline from Millville is a crucial part of that conversion.

According to a map submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the proposed 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.

The pipeline would transport about 20 million dekatherms of gas from Millville to Beesleys Point. That equates to the same amount of gas that South Jersey Gas provides to 267,000 homes in a year.

Supporters say the conversion to natural gas will help the power plant burn cleaner. The New Jersey Sierra Club, the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, and Waterwatch International have come out against the pipeline, however, saying it would damage the Pinelands.

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