South Jersey Gas tries again for new Pinelands pipeline

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    South Jersey Gas is giving another shot at winning approval for a 22-mile natural gas pipeline though the Pinelands.

    A proposal for a pipeline along the same route was narrowly voted down by the Pinelands Commission last year.

    If approved, the pipeline would allow conversion of a coal-fire power plant on the Jersey Shore to natural gas.

    An amendment filed with its application Thursday meets the standard that infrastructure projects in a Forest Management Area within the Pinelands must be “intended to primarily serve the Pinelands,” according to the company.

    The amendment spells out a requirement that the 24-inch pipeline send gas to the B.L. England power plant at least 350 days a year.

    “We believe that the requirement of the Comprehensive Management Plan of the Pinelands that a project be primarily used to benefit the Pinelands is satisfied by our proposal,” said Robert Fatzinger, senior vice president of engineering and system integrity for South Jersey Gas. “Ninety-five percent of the time we’ll be serving a customer that resides in the Pinelands.”

    If approved, the pipeline would supply the B.L. England power plant, at the northern tip of Cape May County, with the natural gas it needs to stay open once it is no longer allowed to burn coal in 2017.

    The pipeline would also serve as an emergency backup line for natural gas to more than 142,000 customers in Cape May and Atlantic counties, customers currently served by a single pipeline, according to South Jersey Gas.

    Jaclyn Rhoads, assistant executive director of the environmental group Pinelands Preservation Alliance, said she remembers that emergency backup function for residents outside the Pinelands being billed as the primary purpose of the project when it was originally proposed.

    “South Jersey Gas is keeping the same line (and) the same purpose, repowering B.L. England power plant, yet suddenly they’re changing their objective for building these things,” Rhoads said.

    “All of a sudden, everything else stays the same, but now this new need suddenly appears, and they’re trying to say it would serve Pinelands residents,” she said. “I’m not sure how they’re going to demonstrate that.”

    The amendment does make a few small changes to the pipeline plan: It moves a transmission station out of a forested area and proposes using less disruptive construction techniques on one four-mile stretch, according to Fatzinger.

    According to the company, most of the pipeline pathway is within cleared land for roads, mostly along Routes 49 and 50, and will not cut into protected areas of the Pinelands.

    Still, environmental groups including the New Jersey Sierra Club have voiced concerns about fragile ecosystems and water quality in the Pinelands being affected by development and vow to continue opposing the project.

    The Pinelands Commission expects to have an answer for South Jersey Gas within three months.

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