The head of the New Jersey utility whose $90 million Pinelands natural gas pipeline project was stymied by environmental opposition said he was "incredibly optimistic" the project would be revived and gas would flow by the end of 2016.
Edward J. Graham, chief executive officer of South Jersey Industries Inc., told investment analysts Friday the project had received an "enormous groundswell" of support since the New Jersey Pinelands Commission rejected it in January by a 7-7 vote.
Without being specific, Graham said the company's utility, South Jersey Gas, planned to resubmit a modified pipeline proposal to the commission, which is charged with preserving the 1.1 million-acre protected Pinelands National Reserve.
"We're going to be responsive to some of the suggestions that those that voted against us cited, and we will look at coming back in with some modifications to our filing that address the issues they raised," Graham said. "And we are incredibly optimistic about the outcome."
He said the company would commit a "decent magnitude" of construction money in 2015. "And I would very much hope before 2016 ended that we'd be in service."
He credited Gov. Christie, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), and State Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D., Cape May) for leading the effort for reconsideration.
Environmental activists fear pipeline supporters are pressuring the Pinelands Commission to reverse its opposition to the route. They said the pipeline was incompatible with the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, which permits only construction that benefits residents of the protected area.
"We're going to defend the integrity of the plan," said Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, who vowed legal action to block the route.
The South Jersey project is among a growing number of pipelines proposed to deliver energy from the nation's shale gas boom that have become focal points for activists opposed to fossil-fuel development.
The 22-mile pipeline, which mostly follows a road, would deliver natural gas from a trunk line in Cumberland County to the B.L. England Generating Station at Beesley Point in Cape May County.
The utility says the pipeline would also make its residential and commercial distribution system more reliable.
Rockland Capital, a Texas private equity firm that bought the power plant in 2007, has proposed spending about $400 million to convert it from coal to natural gas.
The change would reduce the plant's emissions to comply with a mandate from state environmental regulators. After conversion, the plant would produce 615 megawatts of electricity.
The commission's deadlocked vote denied the project a variance it needed. But a longtime commission member who had voted against the pipeline, Leslie Ficcaglia, was replaced last month by the Democratic-controlled Cumberland County Board of Freeholders, which could change the commission's balance.