APPELLATE DIVISION SENDS PIPELINE CASE BACK TO PINELANDS COMMISSION FOR FURTHER REVIEW

November 7, 2016 | No Comments
Posted by Paul H. Schneider

In a setback to plans by the South Jersey Gas Company (SJG) to construct a natural gas pipeline through the Pinelands, the Appellate Division of Superior Court rejected a decision by the Executive Director of the Pinelands Commission that would have permitted construction of the pipeline without review by the full Commission.

Because the proposed pipeline will travel through several municipalities in the Pinelands, it is subject to review for consistency with the minimum standards of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP). Initially, the Commission’s staff found that the pipeline did not satisfy those standards as it was not intended to primarily serve only the needs of the Pinelands Area. The Commission’s staff and the staff of the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) then negotiated a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to allow the project to be built in the Pinelands Area notwithstanding the finding that it did not comply with the minimum standards of the CMP. However, when presented to the full Commission, the MOA failed to garner a majority vote.

SJG then revised the pipeline plan, and the Commission’s staff found this revised plan did satisfy the CMP criteria. The Commission’s Executive Director then determined the pipeline could proceed without review by the full Commission.

The Pinelands Preservation Alliance and Sierra Club challenged that determination in court, arguing that the Executive Director did not have the authority to render a final decision approving the project without approval by the Commission itself. The Appellate Division agreed, holding that “the Commission retains final decision-making authority as to whether SJG’s proposed pipeline is consistent with the minimum standards of CMP.” The court sent the matter back to the Pinelands Commission for further review.

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