The fight continues between South Jersey Gas and residents and environmental activists seeking to prevent the company from building a natural gas pipeline through the Pinelands.

 

At a hearing Monday, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities heard public comments on the company's application to have local zoning laws waived for the 22-mile pipeline.

The proposed pipeline would stretch from outside of Millville, New Jersey,  to the B.L. England generating station in Beesley's Point.

Ocean City resident Georgina Shanley lives in the shadow of the coal-fired power plant, which has been ordered to shut down or switch to natural gas.

"From my doorstep, I can see the chimney stacks every day," Shanley said.

She said would rather see B.L. England close than be given new life by the proposed natural gas pipeline.

In her testimony she railed against allowing the gas company to skip typical zoning procedures in the three municipalities the pipeline would pass through.

"It shows really the erosion of rights of citizens and the usurpation of these rights by corporations," Shanley said.

South Jersey Gas spokesman Dan Lockwood said the land use application was standard and one of the last hurdles before the pipeline's final approval.

"I don't have any sense of a timeline, we're hopeful for sometime later this year," Lockwood said.

In addition to serving the power plant, the pipeline would be a backup natural gas source for 142,000 customers in Cape May and Atlantic counties.

Debra DiLorenzo, president of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, testified in favor of the pipeline, saying it was necessary for grid redundancy.

"South Jersey Gas has one pipeline into parts of Atlantic and all of Cape May counties," DiLorenzo said.  "And as we saw with Superstorm Sandy, when the system goes down, it's a problem. So in order to enhance reliability, we need to have this pipeline up and running as soon as possible."

New Jersey Sierra Club president Jeff Tittel argued that allowing a new natural gas pipeline in the fragile ecosystems in the Pinelands sets a dangerous precedent for future development in the protected area.

"If you can justify this pipeline, you can justify any pipeline," Tittel told BPU Commissioner Joseph Fiordaliso.

This summer the executive director of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission, the state agency charged with protecting the Pinelands National Reserve, gave the project an effective go-ahead so long as the pipeline is approved in its current form by local authorities and the BPU.

South Jersey Gas filed its original pipeline proposal to the Pinelands Commission in 2013, but the commission deadlocked 7-7 on a necessary vote and the proposal was killed.

The company amended its application to highlight the service the pipeline would provide to Pinelands residents, and the commission approved the modified plan in August.

A court appeal filed by the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, an environmental group, is still pending.