With BPU approval, South Jersey pipeline plan leapfrogs municipal reviews

 Parker Preserve area in the Pinelands. (Photo courtesy of Pinelands Preservation Alliance)

Parker Preserve area in the Pinelands. (Photo courtesy of Pinelands Preservation Alliance)

A proposed natural gas pipeline that would travel from Cumberland County to Cape May County, and which has aroused considerable opposition from environmentalists, gained approval from a state board Wednesday.

The Board of Public Utilities ruled the project can proceed without local zoning approvals from towns through which the 22-mile pipeline would run.

“We are pleased to receive this approval from the BPU and appreciate their ongoing acknowledgement of the need for this critical project for southern New Jersey,” said a statement issued by South Jersey Gas.

The BPU agreed with the company’s reasoning that the pipeline is necessary to provide a backup supply source to more than 140,000 customers in Atlantic and Cape May counties.

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The pipeline would also feed into the B.L. England power plant, which is converting from coal to natural gas.

Since the route would cut through part of the Pinelands, a 1-million-acre nature reserve in South Jersey, the company still needs approval from the Pinelands Commission, which rejected the proposal in 2014.

Decrying the BPU’s approval, critics said the pipeline would damage the environmentally sensitive area and further promote the use of fossil fuels across the state.

“Today’s BPU vote is a rubber-stamp decision that circumvents the Pinelands Commission and the public,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “The vote will lead to a pipeline that tears a massive ecological scar through the heart of the Pines and create the largest global warming polluter in South Jersey in a floodplain.”

A spokesman for South Jersey Gas said, barring any appeals, the company could begin construction on the pipeline as early as next fall.

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