Southern Reliability Link Pipeline Approved

Katie Smith from the Pinelands Preservation Alliance addresses protesters. (Photo courtesy Food and Water Watch)

TRENTON – The Southern Reliability Link pipeline was approved as far as the Pinelands Commission is concerned, although environmentalists vowed to continue the fight.

This is a pipeline proposed by New Jersey Natural Gas. It would run for 30 miles, starting with a connection to an existing pipeline in Chesterfield. The path of the proposed pipeline would travel through North Hanover, Upper Freehold, and Plumsted. Then, it would go through Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and Manchester Township. The line would run through existing rights-of-way.

The Pinelands Commission was judging the pipeline’s impact on the Pinelands. They voted 8-4 in favor of it. The Commission only has governance over the 12.1 miles that would run through the Pinelands.

The “Yes” votes included Ocean County representative Alan Avery and a governor’s appointee, Gary Quinn from Lacey, as well as William Brown, Giuseppe Chila, Paul Galletta, Jane Jannarone, Edward McGlinchey, and chairman Sean Earlen.

The “No” votes came from Candace McKee Ashmun, Mark Lohbauer, Richard Prickett, and another governor’s appointee, D’Arcy Rohan Green of Bay Head.

Commissioner Edward Lloyd recused himself, and Bob Barr was absent, according to a spokesman. The Commission usually has 15 members, but they are down to 14 because currently there is no federal appointee.

The vote was whether to accept Pinelands Commission executive director Nancy Wittenberg’s recommendation to allow the pipeline under certain conditions. These conditions included making sure the work site is kept clean and that native plants are used for revegetation. Another condition requires having a biologist on hand to notice any Pinelands species that might be impacted, and an engineer on hand to prevent chemical leaks from drilling.

This map details the route that the Southern Reliability Pipeline would take. (Map courtesy New Jersey Natural Gas)

“The Pinelands Commission hereby finds that there is ample evidence in the record that demonstrates that the proposed development with the conditions recommended by the Executive Director conforms to the minimum standards of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan,” her recommendation read.

Environmentalists had been protesting this pipeline for months, and the fight does not appear to be over.

“Once again, they took the side of pipeline companies over doing their job and protecting the Pinelands,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This approval flies in the face of the thousands of New Jersey citizens who have spoken out against the pipeline and contradicts the Commission’s own rules. What makes this more outrageous is that the court ruled that Nancy Wittenberg’s previous approval of the SJG pipeline exceeded her authority. Now the Commission is rubberstamping her decision instead of acting as an independent body.”

A press release from the New Jersey Sierra Club noted that they are currently suing the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) and the Pinelands Commission on their approval of the SRL pipeline.

“There have been conflicts of interest throughout this whole process. The decision-makers for this pipeline have been tainted from Christie down. He put many of the Commissioners in their positions so they would help him push through these pipelines,” he said.

Director of Communications for New Jersey Natural Gas Michael Kinney tells Micromedia, “we are pleased with the outcome of today’s vote. New Jersey Natural Gas has worked hard to develop a route for the Southern Reliability Link (SRL) that enhances resiliency, complies with the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, benefits the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and minimizes the impact to the environment and community.

With today’s vote, the SRL has now been approved by the New Jersey Pinelands Commission, the state Board of Public Utilities and the Department of Environmental Protection. Now we are focused on finalizing our outstanding road-opening permits and continuing to work with the Joint Base. Once we have all of the necessary permits, we will begin construction to enhance the resiliency of our system and ensure safe, reliable service for our customers.”