Critics cry foul on easement near Tuckahoe ball fields

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TUCKAHOE – Two residents spoke out Monday against a plan to give an easement to South Jersey Gas on a lot containing two tee-ball fields in Tuckahoe.

The easement would allow the company to build an interconnect station on the property, which would be used to regulate pressure in existing natural gas pipelines in Tuckahoe and a proposed 24-inch pipeline that would run to the BL England power plant in Beesleys Point.

That controversial pipeline would run through the Pinelands. It was defeated by the Pinelands Commission in a 7-7 vote in January, but South Jersey Gas is still pursuing the easement in Tuckahoe.

The township is preparing an ordinance to formalize the easement agreement. It has not been scheduled for introduction yet, according to officials.

Richard Fellows of Tuckahoe said the ball fields on Mt. Pleasant-Tuckahoe Road are used by tee-ball and little league teams in Upper Township. They are also utilized by local kids playing pickup games, he said.

“I use the fields,” he said. “Kids in the neighborhood use those fields.”

Committeeman Hobie Young said last month that the tee-ball fields would be unusable if South Jersey Gas built the interconnect station there. But new fields could be built at Amanda’s Field, he said.

The township has made plans to consolidate baseball activities at Amanda’s Field in Petersburg. It recently completed three baseball fields with county grant money and is looking to install lights at two of the fields.

The $67,500 price of the easement would be enough to build two new tee-ball fields or one very good Tee-Ball field at Amanda’s Field, he said Monday.

“We’ve looked at ways to consolidate (recreation),” Young said. “We’re 64 square miles. We can’t do it in every community.”

Fellows said urban planning is moving away from large centralized complexes.

“If a kid wants to play baseball he has to find an adult to give him a ride to Amanda’s Field,” he said.

Township engineer Paul Dietrich said the Amanda’s Field project has been approved in Master Plan examinations performed by the planning board. 

“The Master Plan is to consolidate major sports activities in Amanda’s Field,” Dietrich said.

Fellows said the gas company would “find a way” to build an interconnect station elsewhere.

“In fact, they have a way on Marshall Ave. but they changed their minds,” he said.

South Jersey Gas originally planned to build the interconnect station on private property on Marshall Ave. near the public works yard, according to documents from the company. It would have required an easement to build the pipeline underneath the public works yard, Dietrich said.

Young said South Jersey Gas representatives recently met with Dietrich and himself and they visited six different sites in Tuckahoe for an interconnect station. He recommended the lot with the ball fields, he said.

He said a single Tee-Ball field could be built near the existing fields, or a general recreation field for pickup games in Tuckahoe could be possible.

“I didn’t think about kids playing pickup games,” Young said. “We could look at keeping a backstop and having a field there.”

Dietrich said moving the ball fields from that lot would allow for an easier sale of the old Township Hall building to the north because they both share a parking lot. It would also allow for the expansion of the public works yard to the south, Young said.

“There would be additional room for workshops, a building to keep vehicles out of the weather,” he said.

Mayor Richard Palombo said it is “no secret we are supporting the efforts for putting in the pipeline.” The closure of the BL England power plant could result in a “potential catastrophic outcome” for Upper Township taxpayers, he said.

The loss of the $6.2 million in energy tax receipts from the power plant each year would mean a $1,000 annual tax increase for many homeowners, he said.

Fellows said the township’s energy tax receipts are fixed by state statute and do not depend on the continued operation of the BL England plant. Palombo agreed, but said that could change.

“A different legislature can come in five years from now and change the formula,” Palombo said.

“The legislature can do anything they want anytime they want,” Fellows said. “It’s got nothing to do with the plant.”

The Gazette reported in April that the state Department of Community Affairs confirmed the closure of BL England would not affect energy tax receipts to Upper Township. The money funds half of the township’s budget each year.

The fate of the BL England power plant is up in the air after the Pinelands Commission rejected the proposal to build the natural gas pipeline through the Pinelands to the plant. The pipeline would allow the plant to convert from coal to natural gas.

The 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 the $400 million conversion plan.

Bob Allen of Seaville said Monday that the pipeline would pose a risk to residents of Tuckahoe. The 700 psi pipeline would have a potential impact radius of more than 300 feet, he said.

In the event of a fire, the Tuckahoe fire company would be taken out, Allen said. Nearby diesel and gasoline fuel tanks at the public works yard are adjacent to the planned pipeline as well, he said.

“It’s a question of safety,” he said.


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