New Jersey Natural Gas wants to build a 28-mile high-pressure gas transmission line through parts of Burlington, Ocean, and Monmouth counties, a project the utility says will increase resiliency and redundancy for customers in one of the fastest-growing areas in the state.
The Southern Reliability Link aims to provide a secondary feeder line into the southern portion of the utility’s franchise territory, an area hard hit by disruptions that lasted up to eight weeks after Hurricane Sandy devastated much of its infrastructure, particularly along the barrier islands in Ocean County.
Currently, the Wall Township utility obtains approximately 90 percent of the gas needed to supply its more than half-million customers from an interstate pipeline in Middlesex County. The proposed pipeline, beginning in Chesterfield in Burlington County, would largely run along roads and then through about 10 miles of the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst before ending in Manchester, according to utility executives.
The project, which could cost between $130 million and $160 million, has long been recognized as necessary, but became a bigger priority after Sandy, according to Kathy Ellis, the chief operating officer of New Jersey Natural Gas.
“We saw all the vulnerabilities in our system,’’ added John Wyckoff, director of engineering for New Jersey Natural Gas. That bumped up the project’s priority, in part because 411,000 of the utility’s customers in Monmouth and Ocean counties get their gas from the transmission line in Middlesex County.
“Sandy was the impetus,’’ agreed Craig Lynch, a senior vice president of New Jersey Natural Gas.
The utility has yet to submit applications for permits to the Pinelands Commission, state Department of Environmental Protection, and New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. Nevertheless, it hopes to begin construction by the end of the year and have it in service by the end of 2016, Wyckoff said.
So far, the pipeline has generated some opposition from local residents about the route of the pipeline, but nothing like the protests associated with other pipelines being considered in various areas of the state. Some of those projects stir controversy because they go through lands set aside for open space and farmland preservation.
With low prices for natural gas, there have been numerous new pipeline projects proposed to tap into cheap fuel from the Marcellus Shale formation in neighboring states, particularly Pennsylvania.
“These guys spent a lot of time figuring out a route that would not have an environmental impact,’’ Ellis said, referring to utility executives still designing the project. Even so, the project will require permits from DEP for crossing wetlands and other areas.
Some local residents want the proposed route to follow an existing Jersey Central Power & Light right-of-way, but New Jersey Natural Gas said that would have a greater impact on the communities and the environment.
Beyond providing redundancy by building a new feeder line into its southern territory, the project will also provide relief if natural gas supplies from the interstate transmission line are interrupted, which is what happened in January 2014 when severe cold blanketed New Jersey and the rest of the region.