The former governors have a huge stake in preservation of the Pinelands, which they described “as one of New Jersey’s most precious resources’’ and the nation’s most successful program “to save vulnerable natural resources in the context of a crowded and vibrant state.’’
Kean, as an assemblyman sponsored the law preserving the Pinelands, a measure Byrne signed into law. Florio, as a congressman, pushed through legislation adding federal protections to safeguard more than 1 million acres of the preserve. He later served as chairman of the Pinelands Commission. Whitman signed into law a long-term stable funding source for protection of open spaces.
The agreement on the letter is striking giving the history of the four governors. In the past, they have been foes. Kean defeated Florio to win his first gubernatorial term. Whitman defeated Florio when he sought reelection after his first term.
A call to the Pinelands Commission was not returned.
Asked to comment, Dan Lockwood, a spokesman for South Jersey Gas, issued a statement.
“This pipeline is necessary to improve reliability for the 140,000 South Jersey residents in Atlantic and Cape May counties and will provide significant environmental improvements for B.L. England generating station by transitioning it from coal to natural gas. The pipeline will run adjacent to existing highways and avoids environmentally sensate areas in the Pinelands Forest,’’ according to the statement.
Environmentalists say the project still violates provisions of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan.
“When the commission gives special exceptions for powerful players, it undermines the whole Pinelands protection project and raises the question why anyone should respect its decision,’’ said Jaclyn Rhoads, assistant executive director for the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. “This will not be the last project looking for an exception to go through the Pinelands.’’
Among other things, the environmental groups were angry at an $8 million payment from South Jersey Gas to compensate the commission and to move the project forward.
“Eight million dollars is clearly selling the Pinelands short,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.