Upper Township officials defend support for BL England pipeline

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PETERSBURG – Township officials Monday defended their support of a proposed 24-inch natural gas pipeline through Tuckahoe that would fuel the BL England power plant in Beesleys Point.

Critics of the South Jersey Gas pipeline, which would be built from Millville through the Pinelands, say the project would violate the Pinelands Commission’s Comprehensive Management Plan, and could cause a disaster if it ever ruptures.

 “Pipeline accidents occur all the time,” said Richard Fellows of Tuckahoe, who lives near the proposed pipeline route. He waved a thick book of papers he said contained pipeline accident reports from 2000. One of the worst was a pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif. in 2010 that leveled dozens of homes and killed eight people, he said.

“There isn’t a fire department in South Jersey that has the equipment to respond to something like that,” Fellows said. “It’s going to be four feet under the ground in my front yard. I can spit on it from my window. It is a time bomb.”

South Jersey Gas says in documents that the pipeline will be inspected monthly for any damage or leaks.

Officials said they support the pipeline because it will create a redundancy for natural gas delivery in Cape May County. There is only one pipeline serving the county now. It runs underneath the Tuckahoe River and passes through Tuckahoe, traveling down Route 50.

Engineer Paul Dietrich said construction of the new Tuckahoe River bridge has been delayed because the contractor, South State, Inc., can’t locate that pipeline. The contractor didn’t want to drive piles for a temporary bridge and strike the pipeline, he said.

“If the pipeline was ruptured, all of Cape May County would lose gas,” he said.

Fellows said the new pipeline would not offer a real redundancy because it will travel through Tuckahoe and down Route 50, much like the existing pipeline.

“There is no redundancy,” he said. “If one goes, it takes the other one with it.”

Mayor Richard Palombo said the plant also provides jobs and is the reason Upper Township receives the amount of energy tax receipts it does. Upper Township Committee voted unanimously last year to support the pipeline, he said.

The township receives $6.2 million in energy tax receipts each year. The money funds more than half of the township’s annual budget.

Fellows said funding is no longer tied to the existence of the BL England power plant. According to the state Department of Community Affairs, energy tax receipts are now tied to a “historical figure,” essentially the amount communities received when the law was changed. The law was changed in the 1990s because of the closure of many power plants in Camden and Newark.

Palombo said if the power plant closes, the state legislature could vote to take that money away.

“What will guarantee we will continue to get the money is if that plant stays open,” Palombo said.

“Community Affairs can’t tell you what will happen in five years,” said solicitor Dan Young.

“They set the floor at the year they changed the formula,” he said. “The theory is, what’s to stop the state from saying this town no longer has a plant.”

Palombo said he also supports the power plant’s conversion to natural gas because it will burn cleaner than coal.

Georgina Shanley, co-founder of the Don’t Gas the Pinelands Coalition, said officials were selling out to South Jersey Gas.

“It’s all about the money,” she said.

She said the gas company is “on the blitz” pushing for the pipeline. Gov. Chris Christie is stacking the Pinelands Commission so that it will approve the project, she said.

The pipeline plan was defeated by the Pinelands Commission in a 7-7 vote in January. Since then, three Pinelands Commission members who voted against the project have been replaced.

In May, Christie nominated New Hanover Mayor Dennis Roohr and Robert Barr, president of the Ocean City Democratic Club and the Ocean City Community Association, to replace D’Arcy Rohan Green of Bay Head and Robert Jackson of Middle Township on the commission.

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.

Upper Township Committee has discussed selling an easement to South Jersey Gas for a property on Mt. Pleasant-Tuckahoe Road that contains two baseball fields. The gas company would pay $67,500 for the easement. An ordinance is being prepared to formalize an agreement.

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