Final vote on NJ Pinelands Natural Gas Pipeline set for Friday morning

The Pinelands Commission was created forty years ago to protect the New Jersey Pinelands (also called the Pine Barrens). From their about page, the commission is,

an independent state agency whose mission is to “preserve, protect, and enhance the natural and cultural resources of the Pinelands National Reserve, and to encourage compatible economic and other human activities consistent with that purpose.”

The Pinelands is one of the nation’s oldest officially sanctioned nature preserves, and it sits on top of a 17 trillion gallon–with a “T”–freshwater aquifer.

In August of 2015, commission Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg, “without public notice, debate, or participation,” unilaterally decided to approve the natural gas pipeline, despite enormous opposition by those actually affected by it. The wishes of the board were ignored, and the decision was overruled by the courts on the day before Donald Trump was elected to the presidency.

Despite now clearly lacking the legal authority, Wittenberg and the commission’s (non-board) staff has for the third time decided the pipeline should be approved. App.com reports that, without the board’s knowledge,

A batch of e-mails made public last year showed regular communications and inappropriate coordination about the pipeline between Wittenberg and Pinelands counsel, Stacy Roth, with the Governor’s office and the gas company.

Additionally, in February of 2015, Governor Chris Christie replaced an environmentally friendly Pinelands Commission board member with one supporting the pipeline.

Wittenberg’s decision states that the pipeline clearly benefits the Pinelands since the gas is being routed to a power generation facility serving some of the Pinelanads’ residents. But according to Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance,

“That power plant could run at 100 percent capacity for 365 days and only use a fraction of the gas that pipeline will carry.”

In other words, the pipe is so large and under such pressure, that its ultimate use is expected to be foreign export for the purposes of “national security” and profit.

The board makes its final decision on Friday morning at 9:30, at a hotel in Cherry Hill, where it is scheduled for the hotel’s largest conference room, having a capacity of 1,500. But given the commission’s history of choosing smaller-than-appropriate rooms (most recently resulting in hundreds being shut out of meetings explicitly designed for public comment in January), multiple reports by participants of previous meetings that many union members arrive early to both fill seats and cheer pro-pipeline comments, and the anticipated yes-vote by the board, those interested in participating in the Friday morning meeting are encouraged to show up very early. Here is more information on the event from Food & Water Watch, New Jersey, and the official notification from nj.gov.

Corrected to reflect that the largest conference room is indeed confirmed.

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