State officials approved a 22-mile natural gas pipeline through South Jersey on Friday, allowing a project that had been years in the making to move forward.
The vote came during a contentious public meeting of the Pinelands Commission, where a motion to table the proposal was denied and the crowd sporadically erupted in chants of “do the right thing” and “this is what democracy looks like.”
Crowd chants “do the right thing” after Pinelands Commission denies motion to table pipeline vote pic.twitter.com/zA32xxB9eM
— Joe Hernandez (@byJoeHernandez) February 24, 2017
The project needed the approval of the 15-member commission because the pipeline will partially cross through the Pinelands, a one million-acre federally protected nature reserve.
For years the proposed pipeline had been the target of criticism from environmentalists, activists, and residents who said it was unnecessary and potentially dangerous to nearby communities.
A majority of the roughly 500 audience members at Friday’s meeting were against the pipeline, including Matthew Downing of Marlton, who said the board’s approval set a bad precedent.
“It’s going to open the door for more and more projects like this to go through the Pinelands,” said Downing. “And the more you cut it up, the more wildlife is disrupted, the more chance of water being destroyed, [the more] fires. It’s bad news.”
South Jersey Gas, the company building the pipeline, plans to pump natural gas to a power plant near Ocean City that is transitioning off coal and onto natural gas.
Last week the research arm of the Pinelands Commission recommended that the commissioners approve the pipeline, claiming that the proposal complied with all state rules. The commission rejected an earlier version of the proposal in 2014.
Despite the high number of opponents at Friday’s meeting, there was also a contingent of pipeline supporters.
“It means jobs for us,” said Dave Heins, a South Jersey resident and union laborer. “And it’s because we need energy. They’re closing down the [Oyster Creek] nuclear plant. We need energy.”
In a statement, South Jersey Gas said it was pleased with the approval but did not specify when it would start building the pipeline.
The Sierra Club and other pipeline opponents plan to challenge the decision in court before then.