It is the mission of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce to be the champion for the business community through the strength of legislative advocacy, member services and educational programs. As advocates for over 800 members we represent, the chamber fully supports projects that improve the county’s economy by creating and retaining much-needed jobs, while enhancing daily life for residents and businesses.

The South Jersey Gas Cape Atlantic Reliability Project is such a project.

The project includes the construction of a 22-mile transmission pipeline — delivering cleaner, efficient natural gas to the B.L. England generating facility in Beesley’s Point in Cape May County. When finished, the new pipeline will reinforce the region’s access to safe and reliable energy by providing a critical back-up natural gas supply route to more than 142,000 customers in both Atlantic and Cape May counties.

In recent weeks, I have heard and read various viewpoints on this project — the good, the bad and the ugly. Each person has their own opinion, some citing the proven benefits of the project, others contesting its potential impact on the region’s environment and ecosystem.

Ironically, a number of those expressing sentiments are not residents of Atlantic and Cape May counties, or even of southern New Jersey. Some are from places as far away as Toms River, Bordentown and even Hudson County. While I respect their opinions, this also left me wondering, “Where are the voices of those who will be directly impacted by this project? How do these people feel?”

It is time for the residents and businesses of Cape May County to have a voice, and it is time for us to unite and speak up in support of the many benefits the Cape Atlantic Reliability Project offers us.

Despite what opponents have stated, there has been extensive research conducted in regard to the project’s environmental impact on the region. The pipeline would run either under or adjacent to the already paved roadways of Routes 49 and 50 between Upper Township and Maurice River Township, all within the existing cleared public rights-of-way, and only 10 miles of the 22-mile pipeline would travel through the forest area of the pinelands. This project will not cut into this pristine and protected part of the state, and there will be absolutely no forest clearing. Additional studies also have been conducted to ensure that there will be no negative impacts to nearby threatened and endangered species or adjacent wetlands.

Additionally, the conversion of the B.L. England facility from a coal- and oil-fired generator to a natural gas-fired generator, made possible under the scope of this project, would significantly reduce air emissions — making it one of the cleanest plants in the state, and further reducing the state’s reliance on coal.

The project would also provide better reliability for customers throughout the region. Local residents and businesses in the southernmost portion of the state currently rely on a single line supplying local generating facilities. With no backup, any disruption or damage to this line would be potentially devastating, with service outages lasting for months (like those during Superstorm Sandy). The new pipeline would further support the existing line, serving as a critical backup — significantly reducing Cape May County’s vulnerability to prolonged outages and stabilizing the electric grid during periods of peak energy.

In late January, the Pinelands Commission allowed for public comment on the project during its regularly scheduled monthly meeting. I attended the meeting, along with hundreds of others, and had the opportunity to address members of the commission directly. It was vitally important that I make the approximate 80-mile drive north to Browns Mills in Burlington County where the meeting was held to make sure Cape May County, not only others, had a real say.

There is still time to let those living and doing business throughout Cape May County be heard. I encourage residents to speak up and submit their comments in support of the Cape Atlantic Reliability Project to the Pinelands Commission.

As a chamber, we remain firm in our support of this project. We understand the benefits it will have on the businesses and residents of this region, and we are proud to do our part in making sure South Jersey Gas receives the approvals needed to move forward with the project. We hope that residents and businesses, too, will allow their voices to be heard.

Vicki Clark, of Lower Township, is president of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce.

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