Groundhog Day at the Pinelands Commission
By Becky FreeDecember 9, 2016
Today is the 1st monthly meeting of the Pinelands Commission since the Nov. 7th Court decision that sent the SJ Gas Pipeline project back to them – stating that the Commission staff and the Board of Public Utilities had improperly approved the project without taking a full vote of the Commission.
IRONICALLY – 3 yrs ago today the Pinelands Commission held a public hearing on the SJ Gas Pipeline project when it came around the first time. Hundreds of people showed up to speak out against the project. The room was too small and many people were stuck in the lobby unable to get in the room.
During 2013-2014 over 20,000 people testified, wrote letters, made public comment and signed petitions opposing this project. Because we all believe in equal and fair enforcement of the rules that protect our land and water and air.
Then in January 2014 the Commission voted on the project and deadlocked 7 to 7 (1 Commissioner had to recuse himself, but that is another story). The South Jersey Gas Pipeline project failed. The Commissioners and the Commission staff clearly stated in many documents that IT VIOLATED THE RULES THAT PROTECT THE PINELANDS.
So why are we still here?
SJ Gas keeps trying to find a way around Pinelands rules that have existed since 1981. Rules that clearly state infrastructure projects like this are not permitted in the forest area unless “intended to primarily serve the needs of the Pinelands” N.J.A.C. 7:50-5.23. These rules exist in part to prevent the Pinelands from becoming a super highway for gas pipelines and other infrastructure trying to get the coast or to another location. The Pinelands is a fragile, rare ecosystem to be valued and enjoyed – not a transit area.
In 2015 South Jersey Gas resubmitted the same application with “new” information showing that now it “meets the needs of the Pinelands”. This is the same project – we will not be fooled and we won’t be worn down by all the years of work that this project has already consumed.
Today so many people showed up at the Pinelands Commission’s regular monthly meeting that there was no room to park. Pro-pipeline advocates packed the room. Pipeline opponents were crowded into the lobby.
How could the Commission not be aware that people would show up?
Why would they not have planned ahead? It is like Groundhog Day – just like Dec. 9, 2013.
Today the Commission moved into closed session before public comment – and according to the executive director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, everyone who was in the meeting room was asked to leave and more than 100 people were told they can go home and be called if they want to come back.
No matter what the Commission MUST vote on the project, there MUST be a public hearing and they MUST vote to deny the project. It isn’t the job of the Commission to determine energy policy or to support the re-powering of a power plant (that could be underwater in the next 50 years due to sea level rise anyway).
PUBLIC HEARING ANNOUNCED
January 24, 2017 at 9:30 am
UPDATED 12.9.16 at 7pm:
The Pinelands Commission will hold a public hearing on January 24, 2017 at 9:30 am at the Ocean Acres Community Center located at 489 Nautilus Drive, Manahawkin, New Jersey 08050. Learn more on their webpage.
We are very disappointed that they are not holding the meeting in the evening. It is completely unfair to people who work during the day or would need to find child care. They know how many people are opposed to this project.
For people who can’t attend the public hearing you will be able to submit comments by mail or email.
Comments may be sent via the following:
Mail: New Jersey Pinelands Commission
P.O. Box 359
New Lisbon, New Jersey 08064
You can also attend the next regular Pinelands Commission meeting on January 13, 2017 at 9:30 a.m. The Pinelands Commission Offices are located at 15 Springfield Road in Pemberton Township NJ.
Make sure you are on our email list so we can keep you informed in a timely fashion.
You can find information on the Pinelands Commission website about monthly meetings (including agendas) and public hearings. You can also sign up on their email list so you are notified of upcoming events. Here is their website.