A natural gas pipeline in South Jersey inched closer to reality this week, after it received the go-ahead from the Pinelands Commission, the independent state agency that oversees the 1.1 million-acre nature reserve.
The Pinelands Commission staff deemed the pipeline application consistent with the rules laid out in the Comprehensive Management Plan, which governs the area.
“We’re pleased to received the ‘certificate of filing’ from the Pinelands Commission,” said Michael Kinney, a spokesman for New Jersey Natural Gas, the company behind the project. “I think it shows what we said all along, that the Southern Reliability Link project complies with Comprehensive Management Plan, and this is just another step in the process.”
NJNG can now seek the necessary permits from the municipalities the 30-mile pipe would pass through in Monmouth, Ocean, and Burlington counties.
“Even with the limited amount of information in the application, [the Pinelands Commission staff] thinks that it meets the Comprehensive Management Plan and that it does conform,” said Theresa Lettman, director of monitoring programs at the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.
Although the Pinelands Commission said this step is not formal approval of the project — because it will also review the local permits issued to ensure their compliance — Lettman said the idea that the commission would later reject the project is improbable.
“If something comes to light, yes, in the application process,” she said, “but that is very unlikely.”
Critics argue that NJNG is misleading the public by claiming that the project would benefit Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, which part of the pipeline would traverse.
Lettman said that because the pipeline was not originally conceived to serve the base directly, the project conflicts with the comprehensive plan rules.
“It’s not a function of the federal installation, so we feel that the Pinelands Commission should have deemed the application inconsistent,” she said.
Opponents also claimed that emails released earlier this year among NJNG officials, base officials, and members of the Pinelands Commission showed collusion to approve a project that would have otherwise conflicted with local rules.
According to NJNG, the Southern Reliability Link project is necessary to provide energy resiliency to the region, in light of infrastructure damage sustained during Superstorm Sandy.