Pinelands Pipeline Protested, As Vote Approaches

Environmentalists protested the Southern Reliability Link on Hooper Avenue outside the Ocean County Administration Building. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

OCEAN COUNTY – Environmentalists again protested the Southern Reliability Link proposed to be built in parts of Manchester and Plumsted, and county representatives again said that the issue is up to the Pinelands Commission.

The Southern Reliability Link has been proposed by New Jersey Natural Gas. It would run for 30 miles, starting with a connection to an existing pipeline in Chesterfield. The path of the proposed pipeline would travel through North Hanover, Upper Freehold, and Plumsted. Then, it would go through Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and Manchester Township. The line would run through existing rights-of-way.

(Photo by Chris Lundy)

The Pinelands Commission has already stated that the pipeline is consistent with the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, a document that governs economic and recreational activity within the Pinelands. There is a final vote on Sept. 8.

Environmentalists are concerned about the effect the pipeline would have on the natural land there, and the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer beneath it. So, they came out to protest at a recent meeting of the Ocean County Freeholders. The Freeholders have an appointee on the Pinelands Commission, Alan Avery.

Carol Gay, of Brick, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress as the Democrat’s choice for the 4th District in 2006, asked for Avery to be removed for violating the Pinelands Preservation Act and voting against the interest of the Pinelands.

“We think it’s time for the Ocean County Freeholders to speak up loud and clear to protect the Pinelands,” she said.

Barry Bendar, Green Party candidate for Freeholder, said there is “overwhelming opposition” from people in the area. Several environmental groups have come out in opposition of the pipeline, including the Sierra Club and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

Bendar also wanted Avery removed, and replaced using an open and transparent process.

Darren Burke, of Manchester, spoke about the value of the Pinelands.

“The Pinelands is not just an Ocean County gem, or a New Jersey gem, it’s a national gem. It took thousands of years for it to come to be. We don’t want to lose it in a few generations,” he said. He brought pictures of a similar pipeline, to show that it is large enough for people to go inside.

Marianne Clemente, of Barnegat, who up until recently was running for Barnegat Committee, said that Avery should be dismissed because he is not doing his job, which is protecting the Pinelands.

Raven Potosky, of Manchester, said that the reasons some people have been stating that the pipeline is needed are false. The Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst leadership has gone on record as saying they need the fuel. Potosky said they are PSE&G clients.

Manchester went on record stating that it is necessary, but they would not use it either, she said. Another reason for the pipeline is for resiliency after a major storm. But after Superstorm Sandy, gas was the utility most people still had.

Freeholder Joseph Vicari pointed out an article in The Manchester Times in which Mayor Kenneth Palmer said the pipeline will help service a large portion of Manchester residents. He also referenced a letter from Joint Base leadership that stated that they wanted the pipeline to help in their operations.

Can Freeholders Influence The Pinelands Commission?

This is not the first time environmentalists have asked the Freeholders to step in and ask their appointee to vote against a pipeline. The county representatives have always given the same answer:

Some of the Ocean County Freeholders listen as residents protest the pipeline. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

“We cannot use our influence on anyone on an autonomous board,” Vicari said. Vicari is running for re-election to the Board of Freeholders as a member of the Republican Party.

“It’s inappropriate for this board to influence or direct a member of the Pinelands Committee to vote,” said Jack Sahradnik, attorney for the freeholders.

County administrator Carl Block said that he was not aware of any way to remove an appointment like this. It also creates a bad precedent.

He didn’t want there to be a method “to remove someone if they are not voting the way that you wanted. They would be under the threat of removal for how they voted.”

The Freeholders would not tell someone how to vote, Freeholder John Bartlett said. Additionally, he trusts Avery to make the right decision. He’s known him for 37 years.

According to Avery’s bio on the Pinelands Commission website, he had been the Ocean County representative from 1983 through 2005, and was reappointed in 2013. He had held a number of county positions in the past, including business administrator. He currently fills many roles, such as a member of the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Advisory Committee and county planning board.

“He is a man of immense integrity,” he said. If he wanted to be reappointed for the position, he would endorse that.

According to the New Jersey Pinelands Commission’s website, it 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.”

Ocean County has three representatives on the Pinelands Commission. Avery was chosen by the Freeholders. The other two representatives are appointed by the governor: Lacey Committeeman Gary Quinn, a builder, and Bay Head Councilwoman D’Arcy Rohan Green, who is on the board of directors of Save Barnegat Bay.

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Chris Lundy is News Editor at Micromedia. He has covered Ocean County news and features in various publications since 2003. Lundy worked for Gannett with articles in The Beacon, Observer and Asbury Park Press. He's also written for the Community Connection, Patch and ShoreBeat.