PEMBERTON TOWNSHIP — A month after the Pinelands Commission narrowly voted against allowing South Jersey Gas to build a natural gas pipeline through 10 miles of preserved forest, emotions were still running high among commissioners and staff members.
At Friday’s Pinelands Commission meeting, the first since the pipeline vote, divisions in the room became apparent once the public comment period began.
Jonathan Atwood, of state Sen. Jeff Van Drew’s office, read a letter from the senator, asking the commission to revisit the pipeline issue at next month’s meeting. Building an underground pipeline along 22 miles of highway right-of-way, from Maurice River Township to the B.L. England power plant in Upper Township, will do no environmental harm, Van Drew argued, but will help the region’s economy.
That prompted Georgina Shanley, of Ocean City, to criticize the commission for defeating the pipeline by just a 7-7 vote, opening the door for legislators, union and business leaders to start “round two” of the debate.
“I question whether their higher goal is really and truly to serve the Pinelands, or (if it is) self interest and local interest?” said Shanley of the seven commissioners who voted for the pipeline.
Commissioner Edward McGlinchey, of Winslow Township, who voted for the pipeline, told her to stop.
“Am I being censored?” asked Shanley, as McGlinchey repeatedly interrupted her.
When Shanley continued criticizing the staff and commissioners, McGlinchey erupted.
“This is bull,” McGlinchey said, then left the room. He later apologized for his outburst.
Atlantic County Freeholder Director Frank Formica told the commission he relies on clean water to bake his company’s famous bread, and doesn’t want to see pollution in the Pinelands. But he said the pipeline would travel along a roadside right of way, “with a net loss of five trees.”
He argued the pipeline is necessary to strengthen the power grid in South Jersey and help diversity the local economy, in the face of some of the highest unemployment in the nation.
“Companies like pharmaceuticals and others want to come here. They have looked at the old Lenox site (in Galloway Township),” Formica said. But he said they need reliable power sources, and urged the commission to do what it can to help strengthen the power grid.
Senior commission staff had recommended the commission sign a memorandum of agreement, in exchange for $8 million to be used for land preservation, to allow the pipeline to be built. It would have allowed the B.L. England plant to convert from coal to natural gas, and go from a peak use only plant to a continually operating one.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said after the meeting that there are already enough power plants in New Jersey to serve the state’s needs, that power is purchased based on price not local generation, and denied the local power grid is fragile.
Hammonton blueberry farmer Paul E. Galletta, Atlantic County’s representative on the commission, told Commission Chairman Mark S. Lohbauer he was upset with him for writing a letter to The Press of Atlantic City implying that those who voted for the pipeline had not followed the law. Galletta voted for it, while Lohbauer voted against it.
“Your letter was unilaterally written, unbeknownst to staff. I strongly disagreed with the letter, but I am not going to debate my chairman in public,” said Galletta. “You have commissioners who didn’t agree with you. It was very troubling. I don’t believe I voted against the law.”
Lohbauer said he wrote the letter in response to a Press editorial, and it represented his own opinions, not those of the commission. He said Galletta should feel free to rebut it.
“No one here has ever accused our attorney or senior staff of trying to lead us into an illegal act,” Lohbauer said. “Many of us differed in our opinions. We can make those choices without being derogatory of staff or counsel.
“Obviously there are still unsettled feelings among commissioners here, and staff members,” Lohbauer said. “We may disagree, but everyone here I believe is devoted to the mission of the Pinelands.”
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