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BPU President Explains Why Agency Gave Go-Ahead to Latest Pinelands Pipeline

Benefits and need outweigh concerns raised by locals, other opponents, according to Mroz

Richard Mroz, president of the state Board of Public Utilities

Another new natural-gas pipeline will be built through a portion of the Pinelands, a project advocates said will ensure resilient and redundant service to most customers of New Jersey Natural Gas.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities Friday unanimously approved the 30-mile project at its monthly meeting in Trenton, a session briefly disrupted by protesters battling the proposal. Chanting “Stop the pipeline,’’ and “This is a sham,’’ the meeting briefly adjourned until the protesters were escorted out by state troopers.

The project is the second gas-pipeline proposal to cross through the 1-million-acre preserve endorsed by the agency since December over vigorous opposition from conservationists and some local officials.

The approval was not unexpected. At a meeting in January, the BPU approved the route of the pipeline -- about one-third of which goes through the Pinelands since it would cross through the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. On Friday, the commissioners ruled the project would be exempt from local land-use laws, depriving six communities oversight and review of the project.

In approving the proposal, BPU President Richard Mroz said the record of evidence before the commissioners showed that the benefits of and need for the project outweighed the concerns raised by locals and other opponents.

“The applicant has made this proposal largely based on its foundation on the need for redundancy and the risk of not doing so would be detrimental as highlighted by the impacts of superstorm Sandy,’’ Mroz said. The storm devastated portions of the New Jersey Natural Gas system in parts of its franchise territory.

Mroz also noted that the project is consistent with the state’s Energy Master Plan, a policy document that encourages expansion of the natural-gas infrastructure in New Jersey as a way of bringing down energy costs.

The pipeline is one of about 15 projects proposed, approved, or pending in the state in the wake of new drilling for natural gas in Pennsylvania and neighboring states in the past few years. The projects have won support from business interests an others for sharply reducing gas costs, but are opposed by environmentalists who want to lessen the state’s reliance on fossil fuels.

The New Jersey Natural Gas project will move forward without the approval of the Pinelands Commission, although its executive director forwarded a letter to the BPU saying the proposal complies with the commission’s Comprehensive Management Plan.

Mroz also noted that the state Department of Environmental Protection determined the proposed route of the pipeline would have the least impact on the environment than any of the other alternatives.

Nevertheless, the project faces a court challenge from opponents. Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said his organization will likely contest the decision in state appeals court. The club already is challenging the approval of the 22-mile pipeline project by South Jersey Gas, which the BPU signed off on in December. That project would also cut through a portion of the Pinelands to bring fuel to the B.L. England power plant in upper Cape May County.

Opponents were disappointed by the agency’s decision.

“It is unfortunate that the BPU has once again voted in favor of an unneeded and unwanted pipeline project. It is disappointing that the commissioners really don’t care about the health, safety or wellbeing of the citizens who reside in New Jersey,’’ said Bordentown Mayor Jill Popko.

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