November 21st marks the 40th anniversary of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP). The New Jersey Pinelands Commission protects the Pinelands through its implementation of the CMP which contains the rules that guide land-use, development, and natural resource protection programs in the state Pinelands Area.
“While the Pinelands Commission plans a party to celebrate the CMP, they are approving projects that directly violate the CMP. The CMP is supposed to steer growth in appropriate areas and prevent growth where it’s inappropriate. However, the most recent Commission stacked with Christie appointments, have turned the CMP into a Compromised Management Plan as they side with developers and pipelines. They are still moving forward with an HDD SJ Gas drilling project and the SRL Pipeline, and have yet to rescind their approval for the SJ Gas pipeline. The Commission has also failed to address climate change and update these current environmental issues into the CMP,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The Pinelands Commission has failed to do what they are supposed to do. They have sided with polluters over people time and time again and have yet to update a 40-year plan into the 21st century.”
The Pinelands is susceptible to climate change and invasive species like the southern Pine Beetle. In May, a brush fire in the pines of Camden County burned 2,100 acres. In April of last year, a wildfire engulfed nearly 12,000 acres of the Pinelands making it one of the largest in recorded state history. The northern New Jersey Pinelands, and pitch pine stands in the New England states with similar structural characteristics, are particularly at risk of infestation as the southern pine beetle continues to move northward, according to researchers.
“The Pinelands Commission has failed to address climate change and greenhouse gases. Climate change, heat waves, over-pumping groundwater and aquifers, dried out soil, and the threat of invasive species killing tries has led to dangerous conditions that are a threat to the public. New Jersey needs a better plan with the constant threat of fire in areas like the Pinelands. If we want to preserve our precious forests, we need to keep people out of those areas. We need better use of maps that identify high-risk areas where developments or fossil fuel pipelines should not go. The Commission needs to make sure the Pines are protected from harmful species like the emerald ash borer, the southern pine beetle, spotted lantern flies, and the gypsy moth,” said Tittel. “The Pinelands Commission needs to look at how the growth areas in the Pinelands are being overdeveloped. Many growth areas like Hamilton and Galloway are getting paved over where natural resources are destroyed. They need to move these growth areas to Atlantic City, Bridgeton, Pleasanton Camden, or Millville that will take pressure off the Pinelands while revamping cities that need it.”
Despite new nominees to the Pinelands Commission, the Murphy Administration has a long way to go when it comes to protecting these areas.
“The Pinelands Commission has not done enough to promote eco-tourism and compatible economic development into the Pinelands Region. We have this wonderful oasis but the Commission has done little to promote it. The Pinelands is the country’s first National Reserve and holds 17 trillion gallons of water in its aquifer. There is nothing like it in the world. We need to make sure that we protect these areas and move forward on a compatible economic growth plan for this beautiful region of our state,” said Tittel. “Governor Murphy still needs to move forward with his nominees to the Pinelands Commission because it is currently run by Christie appointees who support pipelines.”
The Pinelands Commission have not rescinded their approval for the SJ Gas Pipeline. The SJ Gas pipeline in the Pinelands was originally intended to repower the B.L. England plant. Owners of B.L. England has now closed the plant permanently, eliminating any need for the pipeline. South Jersey Gas plans were to build a pipeline that would go through the southern part of the Pinelands to connect into the B.L. England plant. Now that B.L. England will not be re-opened, the company continues to pursue the pipeline claiming it will improve system resiliency. The NJ Sierra Club won a NJ Superior court motion that would remand the South Jersey Gas case back to the Pinelands Commission. In March, the Commission voted down a resolution Addressing the Remand of the South Jersey Gas Company Application Due to a Significant Change in Material Fact.
“How can the Commission celebrate the CMP when they continually violate it. They failed to rescind their approval for the SJ Gas Pipeline that goes directly against the CMP. They dragged their feet for months to vote down a resolution that went against Attorney General Grewal’s letter vacating the approval of the pipeline. The decision by the Commission also means SJ Gas would still be able to reapply or find another buyer for B.L England. The BPU approval of the SJ Gas pipeline is based on the Pinelands approval so as long as the Pinelands Commission doesn’t rescind their approval, the BPU approval still stands,” said Tittel.
At the October Pinelands Commission meeting, the Commission discussed an HDD drilling project involving South Jersey Gas. South Jersey Gas (App. No. 2020-0083.001): On September 21, 2020, the Commission staff issued a letter indicating that the replacement of 5,900 linear feet of natural gas main in the Hamilton Mall area of Hamilton Township did not require an application to the Commission. The September 21, 2020 letter requested that South Jersey Gas prepare a contingency plan to address any potential inadvertent return of drilling fluid that may occur during the installation of approximately 1,135 linear feet of natural gas main by horizontal directional drilling under the Atlantic City Expressway.
“If the Pinelands Commission truly wants to do their job and follow the CMP, they need to reject the SJ Gas HDD drilling project. The fact that HDD will occur should be a major red flag, especially with irreparable harm that SRL has caused from HDD. SJ Gas will be playing Russian Roulette if they drill right under a major expressway. We have already seen sinkholes, blowouts, and more from this technique that should be downright banned,” said Tittel. “The Pinelands Commission need to update the CMP so that projects like the SJ Gas extension and HDD drilling are not allowed.”
The NJDEP reinstated New Jersey Natural Gas’s permits for their SRL Pipeline. DEP has reviewed the strategy for New Jersey Natural Gas’s Southern Reliability Link Pipeline involving updated designs and strategies for the remaining HDD crossings on the pipeline. There have been a series of Incidental Returns (IR) in Burlington County as well as the Pinelands National Reserve which was not hidden by staff members from the Pinelands Commissioners.
“The SRL pipeline has caused a disaster for people living along its route. What’s even worse is that Executive Director, Nancy Whittenberg, held critical information about spills that happened in the Pinelands Reserve. This is outrageous and wrong. Whittenberg is supposed to report incidents and she deliberately failed to do so. Her withholding information violated the public trust and her oath in office. Had the Commission known about the spills in the Pinelands, they may have decided to act instead of denying our stay. We believe given what is happening in the Pinelands with the 5 spills, the Commission should also put in a stay and work to rescind their approval of the Pipeline,” said Tittel.
Governor Christie’s Water Quality Master Plan amendments to sewage authorities, other state agencies, and towns have allowed developers and others to extend sewers to environmentally sensitive areas such as the Pinelands. Areas in the middle of the Pinelands like Chatsworth and Tabernacle could now get high density development.
“The Pinelands Commission let Christie move forward to add over 13,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land in the Pinelands into sewer service areas. What people may not realize is that sewers and related infrastructure determine local land use and future growth more than anything else. It is the major force behind urbanization of rural and environmentally sensitive lands. The amendment was proposed without environmental analysis or review and violates the Water Quality Planning Act. Additional development will mean more pavement and impervious cover, and increased stormwater runoff and pollution in our waterways. More development would mean loss of forest and potentially critical habitat for important species, including Forest Preservation Areas, in violation of the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP),” said Tittel.
The regulations and standards contained in the CMP are designed to promote orderly development by channeling growth toward appropriate areas while safeguarding the region’s unique natural, ecological, agricultural, archaeological, historical, scenic, cultural and recreational resources. Meanwhile there are major fossil fuel projects such as the SJ Gas Pipeline and NJNG’s Southern Reliability Link (SRL) Pipeline that are a major threat to the pinelands.
“The Pinelands is a truly unique and ecologically important region, recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. There are plants and species in the Pinelands found nowhere else in the world. When the CMP was created 40 years ago, it was the most successful land use model and plan in the county until Christie stacked the Commission. Now, 40 years later, the Commission has not dealt with the current issues we are facing, such as climate change,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the NJ Sierra Club. “If the Commission truly wants to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the CMP, they need to update it. It must deal with current issues such as climate change, invasive species, stopping damaging development like pipelines and destructive overdevelopment. Governor Murphy also needs to move forward with his nominees to the Commission because it is still controlled by Christie appointees.”