Pinelands Commission in Midst of Legal Fight Over South Jersey Gas Pipeline

By BY PAT JOHNSON | May 15, 2019

Surf City — The state Pinelands Commission met in closed session May 10 to discus pending litigation over its tentative decision to revoke permission for the South Jersey Gas Company’s southern reliability pipeline. The natural gas pipeline was to travel 22 miles through the Pinelands including 11 miles through the most protected “Forest Area.” The pipeline was to carry natural gas from Maurice River Township to the BL England plant located in Beesley’s Point, Cape May County.

In February 2017, the commission, acting on recommendation of Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg, approved the pipeline. Opponents of the pipeline say it will pose a threat to the aquifer if leaks occur, and also pose a wildfire threat. The New Jersey Sierra Club and Environment New Jersey quickly sued to block the project. The matter is in New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division.

But a seeming victory for the environmentalists came recently in March, when owners of the plant, RC Cape May Holdings, decided they would not go ahead with reconditioning the old coal-fired plant to run on natural gas. Since then, there has been speculation that Orstead, the Danish firm that is committed to produce wind power from ocean turbines east of Atlantic City, may be interested in buying and turning the land into the distribution point for their wind-generated energy.

Last month, the commission prepared a resolution revoking the right of South Jersey Gas to build the pipeline. On the morning of the commission’s April 12 meeting, South Jersey Gas sent a letter threatening court action.

Besides the pipeline to BL England, South Jersey Gas had also been given the go-ahead to build a second pipeline to Cape May County, called the South Jersey Reliability pipeline.

According to SJG attorney Cozen O’Connor, “Any decision to revoke SJG’s approval based upon the Executive Director’s (Wittenberg) recommendation would be ultra vires (outside of her powers). In addition, revocation without a full and formal hearing is proceedurely improper under New Jersey’s Administrative Procedure Act.”

Stacy Roth, legal administrator for the Pinelands Commission, said the attorney general’s office has filed a motion in Appellate Court to remand the matter back to the commission.

During the public comment period, the commission heard from a number of people opposed to the pipeline. Hara Rola read a letter she had written to the commission, saying by allowing pipelines through the pines, New Jersey was supporting Pennsylvania’s practice of fracturing shale fields, “fracking,” to extract natural gas.

Margaret Peligrino of Medford Lakes said the South Jersey pipeline would not be serving the people who live in the pines, and the use of natural gas further adds to climate change. Both women suggested looking to solar and wind power to solve the energy appetite of the state.

The commission was to discuss the matter in closed session but did not take action when the meeting reconvened.

– Pat Johnson

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