As Adam Neuman’s wife left her home for work Monday morning, she texted him a photo: a truck filled with sections of 30-inch pipes driving down the street.

The couple lives on Fischer Road in Plumsted Township, Ocean County, where construction on the Southern Reliability Link pipeline is now beginning, despite it being tied up in the state’s appellate court.

At issue is whether a portion of the controversial project can be built in the Pinelands, New Jersey’s largest nature reserve.

“I’d rather have seen the appeals heard before they broke ground,” said Neuman, who lives across the street from where the line is being constructed.

New Jersey Natural Gas received final approval in 2017 for the 28-mile pipeline, which will run through Burlington, Ocean and Monmouth counties and portions of the Pinelands.

It has been given the greenlight from the Pinelands Commission, the Board of Public Utilities and the state Department of Environmental Protection, as well as municipalities it will cut through.

But environmental groups, including the New Jersey Sierra Club and Pinelands Preservation Alliance, appealed both decisions in the Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court. A little more than 12 miles of the pipeline’s route runs through the reserve.

“Why start building now?” asked Carleton Montgomery, president of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. “It may well be found unlawful.”

The organization plans to ask the BPU and Pinelands Commission this week to issue stays of their prior approval to halt construction.

Kevin Roberts, spokesman for New Jersey Natural Gas, said the company is beginning work now to minimize the impact of construction on seasonal local businesses and farms along a section of the pipeline’s route.

Crews this week will be doing drilling and open trench work, as well as staging the distribution pipes.

“This project will significantly strengthen our system and deliver on our commitment to provide safe, reliable distribution of natural gas to our customers,” Roberts said. “The pending litigation does not preclude us from beginning construction on the project.”

Proponents of the $180 million pipeline say it will ensure a steady supply of natural gas to people in the southern half of the state without disruption. Opponents argue if the line were to leak gas, it could contaminate groundwater and disrupt species living in the Pinelands habitat.

New Jersey Natural Gas has said the pipeline will be continuously monitored for leaks and that control valves will be installed to allow it to be shut down if necessary.

It’s one of two pipeline projects in the works for South Jersey.

South Jersey Gas plans to construct a 22-mile gas pipeline along roadsides from Maurice River Township to the Beesleys Point section of Upper Township. The steel pipeline, 24 inches in diameter, is intended to power the B.L. England power plant.

In June, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection approved five-year extensions to the company’s waterfront development and freshwater wetlands permits for the Cape Atlantic Reliability Project. The line is meant to provide enhanced reliability for 142,000 customers in South Jersey.

It received final approvals in February 2017, but remains tied up in litigation as well. The New Jersey Sierra Club and Environment New Jersey sued the Pinelands Commission over the decision.

Contact: 609-272-7258 Twitter @AvalonZoppo

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