OCEAN COUNTY – Residents urged the Ocean County Freeholders to persuade the local appointee to the Pinelands Commission to vote against the South Jersey pipeline, but the Freeholders said that would be illegal.
The South Jersey Gas Cape Atlantic Reliability Project would run 22 miles from outside Millville in Cumberland County to Beesley’s Point in Cape May County.
It would supply natural gas to B.L. England electric generation facility in Beesley’s Point, Upper Township. According to the power company’s press materials, it would help convert the facility from a coal- and oil-fired electric generator to a natural gas generator. Further, it will provide an alternate pipeline for 142,000 South Jersey Gas customers in Cape May and Atlantic county customers
The pipe would be underground. Approximately 10 of those miles will be running through the Pinelands. According to the power company, these miles will be under paved roadways or under cleared shoulder areas of Route 49. There would not be any forest clearing. There are no routes available that would not go through the Pinelands.
Three residents spoke out against the pipeline at the February 1 Freeholder meeting. They wanted the Freeholders to use their influence to ask their appointee on the Pinelands Commission, Alan Avery, to vote against it.
Connie Higgins, Barnegat Light, asked that the Freeholders ask Avery to do his job and protect the Pinelands.
“His sole job is to protect the Pinelands,” she said. “We don’t need the energy.”
She said that very few places in New Jersey have access to the clean water beneath the Pinelands, and it should be protected.
Marianne Clemente heads the Democrats in Barnegat. She said that while the Pinelands Commission already voted against the pipeline (in 2014), Gov. Chris Christie worked to change that.
“Governor Christie replaced some of the “no” votes on the commission because he wants the pipeline,” she said. “The commission is now stacked.”
According to the Pinelands comprehensive management plan, the only thing that commission members need to know about is whether the plan would benefit local residents. The pipeline is not for Ocean County, and therefore Avery should vote against it.
“It should have died at the first vote,” she said.
“The Pinelands was the first federal preserve in the country. We should be protecting it, not destroying it,” she said.
Raven Potosky, of Manchester, warned that the utility costs will be passed on to the customers.
Freeholder Director Joseph Vicari said it would be illegal for the Freeholders to exert any kind of authority over commission members.
“The commission is an independent authority,” he said. “I cannot legally exert any authority.”
Doing so would open up an ethics issue. Additionally, if the two spoke about the issue, Avery might have to abstain from voting, he said.
Vicari also said that Avery, in his history as county planner, is well-versed on the issues at hand. “I think he will vote according to his conscience,” he said.
“Independent means it’s not political – It’s not supposed to be political,” he said.
Jack Sahradnick, attorney for the Freeholders, echoed that statement. “They can’t order or direct a member of the Pinelands Commission how to vote.”
According to Avery’s bio on the Pinelands Commission website, he had been the Ocean County representative from 1983 through 2005, and was reappointed in 2013. He had held a number of county positions in the past, including business administrator. He currently fills many roles, such as a member of the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Advisory Committee and county planning board.
There are 15 members of the Pinelands Commission. One is appointed from each of the seven counties that share the Pinelands. Seven of them are appointed by the governor, and one is appointed by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
There are two other members of the Pinelands Commission from Ocean County, who were appointed by the governor: Lacey Committeeman Gary Quinn, a builder, and Bay Head Councilwoman D’Arcy Rohan Green, who is on the board of directors of Save Barnegat Bay.