Pinelands Commission votes in favor of SRL pipeline

Protesters at the Pinelands Commission meeting blew whistles and wore Pinocchio noses to challenge the proposed SRL — or Southern Reliability Link. It’s a $130,000 natural gas pipeline that would zigzag 30 miles from Chesterfield to Manchester, beneath homes, Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst and some pristine acres in New Jersey’s vulnerable preserved Pinelands, which overlies drinking water for one million people.

“This 30 inch gas superhighway will sit feet from our homes. Our residents depend on their wells and the pipeline’s put this at risk,” said People Over Pipelines member Glenn Ashton.

“These high pressure gas pipelines do represent real risks to people and natural resources, including the aquifer, on which everyone in the Pinelands Region relies,” said Carlton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

New Jersey Natural Gas calls the pipeline a critical backup to guarantee service to its half-million customers in Ocean and Monmouth Counties, in case some disaster interrupts its current northern transmission feed. The utility also argues it’d increase reliability of service to the massive joint military base.

“We serve the Lakehurst portion of the base. If there was any disruption, either on the existing interstate pipeline, or on our system, it could negatively impact the critical operation of the base,” said Michael Kinney, spokesperson for New Jersey Natural Gas.

“The commission heard from the current and two prior base commanders on the importance of this project to the base, stressing having a critical energy source available without interruption, mentioning Hurricane Sandy and the need to make sure of supply in light of disruption that might be caused by something like that,” said Nancy Wittenberg, executive director of the Pinelands Commission.

Environmentalists argued their study showed the, “SRL is not an effective or reasonable response to a single point of failure scenario and that a less costly and less disruptive alternative exists to address a possible interruption…” And the proposed pipeline drew criticism from the former commission chairman, who quoted the panel’s Comprehensive Management Plan, or CMP.

“The CMP does not give federal installations a blank check to do whatever they want. The area must be protected from development and land use that would adversely affect its long term ecological integrity. For that reason, I’m voting ‘no,'”said commissioner Mark Lohbauer.

The subsequent vote — 8 to 4, in favor — occurred in a fraught, politically-charged atmosphere similar to February’s Pinelands Commission vote to approve another controversial natural gas pipeline for South Jersey Gas, and despite allegations of ethical conflict.

“And what we saw today was a pro-forma rubber-stamp vote of a pipeline that should not be approved. And it’s no accident the commissioners who voted in favor of the South Jersey Gas pipeline earlier this year also voted in favor of this pipeline,” said Environment New Jersey Director Doug O’Malley.

“Unfortunately, there’s a majority of the commission that believes in breaking the law and going to the highest bidder, whether it’s going to a gas company or a developer. It’s just another example of the Soprano State that New Jersey rightfully is too often accused of being,” said David Pringle of the NJ Sierra Club.

“This commission and this governor’s going to be gone in a few months. Unless we stop them, the damage they do will be long term to the Pinelands,” said Tittel.

Sierra Club and other advocates say they’ll sue to block the pipeline. They’re already in court against the South Jersey Gas pipeline. The game plan: run out the clock until the new governor is elected and hope for a redo.