Pinelands panel's staff OK's controversial pipeline
The pipeline would bring natural gas to a Cape May County power plant that is switching from coal power.
A report signed by the commission's executive director, Nancy Wittenberg, recommended that the commission approve the plan. The commission is scheduled to vote Friday.
Wittenberg noted that many opponents of the plan had said the commission's main mission was to protect the Pinelands, but she said it also has the task of encouraging "orderly" economic development in the region.
The 22-mile-long natural gas pipeline would run through the Pinelands, which is protected by state and federal law.
South Jersey Gas would pay $8 million to a Pinelands fund to help clear the project's final hurdle. The deal would, in effect, exempt the pipeline from a ban on new transmission lines in the 1.1-million-acre Pinelands reserve.
The pipeline would go from Maurice River Township in Cumberland County to the BL England plant in Upper Township and would run mostly under or alongside existing roads.
Environmentalists oppose the pipeline, fearing damage. Labor unions and business leaders want it approved for the jobs and added energy reliability it would provide.
In the report, the commission's staff said the proposal meets most of the commission's requirements. It also says the planned acquisition of 2,000 to 3,000 acres of publicly owned land along the pipeline route compensates for the parts of the plan that do not fully comply with commission requirements.
The commission has heard months of public comment on the proposal.
Monday's meeting showed how high tensions are running over the issue.
The commission's chairman, Mark Lohbauer, told the audience that the public record on the proposal was closed and that the commission would accept no further comment on it.
When a member of the public persisted in talking about the pipeline, Wittenberg and the commissioners walked out of the room, with a staff member grabbing the microphone off the speaker's lectern on the way out.