A 22-mile pipeline South Jersey Gas is installing to supply the B.L. England power plant with natural gas also will reinforce the fuel supply to about 60,000 customers in Cape May County, all currently served by a single pipe.
If a problem were to occur with that existing pipe, which runs along Route 50 from Mays Landing, it could take six to nine months to restore full service to the county, officials say.
The Folsom-based natural gas company says that, alone, makes it necessary to lay a new line from the Millville boundary to the heart of Tuckahoe in Upper Township. South Jersey Gas is seeking approval from the state Board of Public Utilities for the route of its 2-foot-wide pipe.
“That provides a redundancy that we don’t have today, a resilience that’s not there,” said Chuck Dippo, senior vice president of engineering services and system integrity for South Jersey Gas.
The BPU recently approved the industrial rate at which South Jersey Gas will charge the power plant in Beesleys Point to transport natural gas through its pipeline. The next step is approval of the exact path the line will take.
As proposed, 14 miles of the line will back up service in Cape May County and parts of Atlantic County. Eight miles of pipe will be used solely for B.L. England, which must convert from coal and oil power to natural gas by 2016 as part of an agreement with the state.
The first section of planned pipe starts in Maurice River Township near Route 49 and Union Road, just outside Millville. It continues east on Route 49, through Estell Manor and into Upper Township, where it connects with the existing line serving Cape May County.
If that only existing line failed, it could take weeks to find and address the problem, and several months to set up service again for each customer in the county, according to South Jersey Gas.
Having two lines — one from the north and one from the west — will better ensure service in case of an accident or catastrophe, which Dippo said should be even more pressing after Hurricane Sandy ruptured gas lines around the state.
“Some of these things that we thought could never happen, happened,” he said.
In Tuckahoe, the pipe would avoid the downtown by traveling down Cedar Avenue, Mill Road, Reading Avenue and Mount Pleasant-Tuckahoe Road to a proposed interconnection facility on Marshall Avenue.
At that point, the section of pipe dedicated to the plant would stretch down Tuckahoe Road, branch off north through Oceanwoods Avenue, then travel to B.L. England on the Atlantic City Electric right of way, where high-tension power lines carry electricity away from the generating station.
The route was chosen to have as minimal an impact as possible on people, plants and wildlife, officials said. Extensive studies were required to identify effects on endangered and threatened species, as well as cultural, historical and archeological effects.
Jim Walsh, New Jersey director of Food and Water Watch, said that isn’t enough. Walsh spoke at a recent public hearing on the proposed pipe at Upper Township Municipal Hall. He said it will have permanent, negative outcomes.
Besides his overall concerns with natural gas as a fuel source and the way it is extracted from underground, he said the tree-clearing and heavy machinery needed to install the pipe through forested areas will do lasting damage to those natural lands.
“It just shows a callous disregard for the natural ecosystem and how it exists,” he said in a subsequent interview.
Dippo said the BPU, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Pinelands Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers all have input and must grant approvals for the pipe to be built.
Safety of the pipeline is overseen also by the BPU’s Pipeline Safety Department. South Jersey Gas says it adheres to the best practices of the American Gas Association for both its installation and monitoring.
The route already has been modified in some places to minimize impacts, and in other areas the pipe will be laid differently.
For instance, to protect wetlands, the company will not dig a trench and lower the pipe into it, Dippo said. Instead, it will use a horizontal drill to create an underground path for the line.
Other proposed routes, such as underneath the Great Egg Harbor Bay or farther south through Upper Township and up along Route 9, would require more disturbance, according to the gas company’s analysis.
As part of its approval process with the BPU, South Jersey Gas says it notified the owners of 188 residential and commercial properties that are within 125 feet of the pipe, more than legally required.
Diane Marie, of the Marmora section of Upper Township, said those efforts to notify local residents were not enough. She said dozens of people she spoke to in her neighborhood and in Beesleys Point were unaware of the project.
“How could they be outraged when they don’t even know about it?” asked Marie, who also complained about the insufficient notifications during the public hearing May 1.
More than 20 members of the public attended that meeting, including local environmental activists who spoke against natural gas in general and the hazards of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which is the process used to extract the resource from the earth.
Upper Township Mayor Rich Palombo spoke in support of the plan, saying the plant is important to the region as a reliable, local source of electricity. The pipe’s purpose of supplying natural gas would ensure its continued operation for decades.
“As far as Township Committee is concerned, we’ve supported this plan because the plant is vital to our community,” he said.
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