By Brenda Flanagan
“This project is being built primarily to benefit the Pinelands.”
So says South Jersey Gas VP Bob Fatzinger. In a renewed push to build its controversial 20-inch natural gas pipeline through the pine barrens, the utility has tweaked the original 2013 private development application, hoping design changes will help soften opposition that led to the project’s rejection. A company video runs along the proposed 22-mile line — called Route A.
“The pipeline will run under and next to already-paved roads and will not cut into protected areas of the Pinelands and minimizes the impact to environmentally sensitive areas and requires no filling of wetlands. There will be no forest clearing or impact to the Pinelands,” South Jersey Gas says.
Last week, the DEP called Route A “…the preferred alternative…” in a review of eight possible routes. The major source connection to a natural gas supply line would avoid the protected forest area, Fatzinger says, as it traverses the million-acre tract, which overlies major underground aquifers.
“So when our opponents say things like we’re tearing a scar through the Pinelands, things like that, it’s just flat-out not true,” Fatzinger said.
The proposed pipeline contracted to feed the BL England power plant, where old, coal-fired generators would be phased out and replaced by cleaner-operating natural gas turbines, according to the plant’s owner.
“We’re powering with natural gas, would provide safe, clean, more efficient, more economic, more reliable energy to the Pinelands and the region,” said RC Cape May/BL England Vice President Russell Arlotta.
Because the power generated would mostly service people who live in the Pinelands area, Fatzinger says the project should meet standards set by the commission’s compliance management plan.
“I think it’s pretty hard to argue with the fact that a pipeline that’s being built to serve a customer in the Pinelands 96 percent of the time is not meeting the needs of the Pinelands, primarily benefiting the Pinelands,” Fatzinger said.
“I was outraged,” said Sierra Club New Jersey Chapter Director Jeff Tittel.
Tittel says when Pinelands Commission staff turned down the gas company’s original private development application three years ago. It tried instead to gain approval through a memorandum of agreement. But last year, the Commission voted to reject the agreement 7-to-7. So the utility went back to its private development app.
“Not only are they back in the same place with the same pipeline. Under this plan, the commission won’t even have a vote and the public, they won’t even have hearings. And it sounds like up to no good. Whenever government goes to these kinds of lengths they’re never doing the people’s business,” Tittel said.
As for politics, the Pinelands Commission’s also experienced staff changes. One strong pipeline no vote was not reappointed and a Gov. Chris Christie appointee Bob Barr joined the agency a few weeks ago vowing not to be a “rubber stamp.”
“To us, this is just the same old story. Where They will use whatever means possible to go around regulations and use whatever support they can, politically, in order to make this deal happen,” said Pinelands Preservation Alliance Assistant Executive Director Jaclyn Rhoads.
Pipeline opponents say they fully intend to continue their opposition to this project, which they consider to be dangerous to a fragile environment. They say while they don’t want to go to court over this, but if they have to they will.