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Unions, lawmaker back proposed pipeline through Pinelands

Unions, lawmaker back proposed pipeline through Pinelands

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WINSLOW TOWNSHIP — Business and labor leaders joined state Sen. Jeff Van Drew on Tuesday in calling for approval of South Jersey Gas’s proposed 22-mile pipeline along roadways from Maurice River Township to the B.L. England plant in Upper Township.

“Sure, construction jobs are at stake,” said Kurt Krueger, business manager of the Local 322 Plumbers & Pipefitters union, which hosted the news conference.

But more importantly, he said, the natural gas pipeline will bring a safe, reliable supply of energy to Cape May and Atlantic counties, necessary for businesses to move to the area or expand.

Krueger said his union’s workers wouldn’t run the gas line, but would convert the plant to natural gas, creating about 100 to 120 jobs for a period of a year to a year and a half.

Greg LaLavee, business manager for the Operating Engineers Local 825, talked about jobs for those who would lay the pipeline.

He said he’s heard criticism that the jobs are temporary, but he said that isn’t accurate.

“They are career jobs. Maybe we go from project to project, but every time one of these projects comes forth they are very good, middle-class, well-paying jobs,” LaLavee said. “As we stand here today, we have probably about 250 operating engineers working on pipeline installation statewide.”

Deborah DiLorenzo, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey, and Michael Egenton, senior vice president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, also spoke in favor of the pipeline.

Deep South Jersey has high rates of unemployment and low average household incomes, said Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic. It is facing the loss of casinos and glass plants in the region, and other economic challenges.

“The greatest social program in the world is a job,” he said. “That’s the truth.”

He said if B.L. England were to close rather than convert to natural gas, it would leave the Pinelands more vulnerable to environmental disruption.

“PJM, the regional managers of the (electric) grid, have made it clear more power is going to be needed, and if the pipeline isn’t successful, (the electric company) will have to expand high tension wires in the Pinelands,” Van Drew said. “Would you rather have a 24-inch gas line along the shoulder of the road, or go into pristine Pinelands and expand high-tension wires?”

Van Drew also stressed the need for a second way to get natural gas to Cape May County in case of damage to the one pipeline that serves it now.

South Jersey Gas has said 95 percent of the gas going through the pipeline will be dedicated under contract to B.L. England at its Beesleys Point electricity-generating plant.

But the company has also said the new pipeline will tie into one that serves part of Atlantic County and goes down the center of the Cape May peninsula, so will provide back up service to about 142,000 people in those areas in case of a problem with the main pipeline that sends gas to it now.

South Jersey Gas is seeking permission from the Pinelands Commission to build the pipeline, 10 miles of which would go through a Pinelands Forest Management Area.

Its first attempt to build the pipeline failed when the commissioners voted 7-7 in January 2014 on a proposal to enter into a memorandum of agreement with the Board of Public Utilities. The MOA would have allowed the pipeline in exchange for an $8 million payment to the commission’s Conservation Fund for land purchase and other efforts.

Commissioners who voted against it said they didn’t believe it was in the best interests of the Pinelands.

On May 21, South Jersey Gas reapplied to the commission, this time for permission to build it as a private development, which does not require a vote by commissioners and would not involve a payment to the fund. The plant is in the Pinelands, so the pipeline would benefit people of the Pinelands, the company said.

Contact: 609-272-7219

@MichelleBPost on Twitter

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