Foes of the Southern Reliability Link are turning to the Burlington County board of freeholders to put a stop to the project by denying the pipeline project a permit to build along its county roads.
New Jersey Natural Gas is already building the nearly 30-mile pipeline through parts of the 1-million-acre Pinelands National Preserve, even though the issue is still tied up in ongoing litigation by opponents.
A coalition of 23 conservation groups led by the Pinelands Preservation Alliance is asking the board to exercise its authority to deny any permit, in this case a construction approval, in the interest of public safety.
“If the freeholders conclude that the proposed route is unsafe and unnecessary, it is entirely within the board’s authority to reject a permit and easement for the job,’’ the letter from the groups argued.
The pipeline, initially approved back in 2016 by the state Board of Public Utilities and challenged in court, is designed to provide more dependable gas delivery to New Jersey Natural Gas customers should there be major disruptions in other pipelines crisscrossing the state.
The issue has become increasingly heated and a major headache for the Murphy administration, as most of the state’s most prominent environmental groups are urging a moratorium on new fossil-fuel projects to curb significantly greenhouse-gas emissions in New Jersey.
There are about nine gas-pipeline projects pending, as well as four proposed natural-gas power plants. Critics contend those projects are not needed, given the administration’s goal to transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Others argue it will take much more time to shift people away from natural gas, given that three-quarters of the state relies on the fuel to heat their homes.
Despite a court challenge brought by the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, the New Jersey Sierra Club, and local townships, New Jersey Natural Gas decided to begin construction on the project in parts of Ocean County at the risk to shareholders.
Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for the utility, defended the project. “The SRL provides critical benefits to the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Burlington County’s largest employer,’’ he said. Construction of the Burlington County portion of the pipeline will begin once all final permits have been obtained, according to Roberts.