Saturday, February 25, 2017

NYC to award $3.3B barge-to-rail waste contract

Cole Rosengren reports in Waste Dive:

Waste Management has been selected by New York's Department of Sanitation (DSNY) for a new $3.3 billion contract, ensuring that landfills will continue to play a large role in the city's long-term waste strategy as it works toward a goal of "zero waste" by 2030.

The 20-year deal involves shipping containerized waste via barges from two DSNY marine transfer stations (MTS) in Brooklyn — Hamilton Avenue and Southwest Brooklyn — to rail connection for long-distance export. Waste Management already has contracts with DSNY at three local rail transfer stations and this new contract will put them in charge of shipping a large majority of New York's residential waste out of the city. This is part of an ongoing overhaul of DSNY's infrastructure that will decrease the use of private transfer stations while significantly increasing export costs.

This particular MTS contract was previously awarded to Progressive Waste Solutions in 2015, but the company withdrew in May 2016. The pending Waste Connections merger and ongoing issues with the Seneca Meadows Landfill in upstate New York were cited as the main factors.

Rather than soliciting new bids, DSNY decided to review submissions from the original 2014 request for proposals. At the time Waste Dive confirmed that Waste Management and Covanta — both current export vendors – were among these bidders. It is unclear whether any other companies were considered. Republic Services was also an existing export vendor, but did not confirm whether it submitted a bid for this contract.

In October, multiple sources told Waste Dive that Waste Management was the leading contender due to cost considerations. DSNY subsequently confirmed that it was negotiating with one vendor, but declined to disclose further details. Later that month, DSNY posted a notice in New York's official city record stating that a hearing would be held in November to discuss a proposed contract with Waste Management. The contract was for "transport and disposal of containerized waste" from the two Brooklyn marine transfer stations. The 20-year deal, with the option of two five-year renewals, was not to exceed $3.3 billion.

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As of publication, this contract has not officially been registered with the city comptroller's office and DSNY has not responded to a request for comment.

Based on a transcript of Waste Management's quarterly earnings call on Feb. 16, Waste Management CEO Jim Fish cited New York among recent contract "wins" that would require capital expenditures in 2017. Later in the call, Fish went on to say that the Brooklyn MTS contract would start in July and spending had already begun on the necessary containers and other equipment required to operate the two stations. As described in the call, waste will be going to the company's High Acres Landfill in western New York and Atlantic Waste Disposal landfill in Virginia.

According to Fish, once both marine transfer stations are operational Waste Management will be handling an estimated 1.8 million tons of material for DSNY. This includes the company's rail export contracts at Harlem River Yards in the Bronx, Varick Street in Brooklyn and Review Avenue in Queens. DSNY currently collects more than 3 million tons of refuse from residents each year.

Big picture

This contract is a notable milestone in DSNY's long-term waste export strategy, though it also highlights how complex New York's system has become. Export costs have been on a steady rise since the city's last landfill closed in 2001. Based on the latest preliminary budget figures, waste export could cost more than $392 million in FY18 and that number is projected to increase as more marine transfer stations become operational.

As envisioned in the city's 2006 Solid Waste Management Plan, this MTS network was meant to
reduce the use of private transfer stations in overburdened neighborhoods and improve operational efficiency. More than 10 years later, only the North Shore MTS in Queens is fully operational. Covanta has the contract for that facility as well as the highly contentious East 91st Street MTS in Manhattan, which is still under construction. The Hamilton Avenue MTS has been essentially finished for years and open to occasional public tours since at least 2015. Construction of the Southwest Brooklyn MTS has been beset with legal challenges and ongoing pushback from local officials.

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Vas, ex-Jersey legislator, mayor completes federal jail term

Tom Haydon reports for

Joseph Vas, a former state assemblyman and Perth Amboy mayor who was
convicted on corruption charges, was scheduled to be released from federal
prison on Saturday. (Ed Murray | NJ Advance Media for

PERTH AMBOY -- Former state assemblyman and four-term city mayor Joseph Vas is scheduled to complete his federal prison term Saturday, but he is not free to return home.

Vas, who has been serving a sentence at the Federal Correctional at Danbury, Conn., will complete that term and then be turned over to New Jersey corrections officials to complete a state prison term.

"He will be returned to New Jersey," said Pat Lombardi, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

He said Vas must finish a state prison sentence that could keep him behind bars until June.

There has been little talk recently of the former mayor in Perth Amboy, said former city Councilman Ken Balut, but some have anticipated Vas' release from a federal facility.

"There been a whisper in the air that he's getting out," Balut said. "People had posted it. They're passing it around," he said of people mentioning Vas on social media. However, Balut said, he and others are aware that Vas still must serve a state sentence.

In October 2010, a jury in U.S. District Court in Newark found Vas guilty of five of nine corruption charges relating to his quest for campaign funds in his bid for a seat in Congress.

The jury found that Vas, while mayor of Perth Amboy in 2006, bought a 12-unit apartment building for $660,000, then quickly flipped it for $950,000, closing the deal with a promise to give the buyer $360,000 in city redevelopment funds. The former mayor funneled $80,000 from the sale to his congressional campaign.

The following April he was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in federal prison.

A month after his federal conviction, in November 2010, Vas pleaded guilty to state corruption charges after a Superior Court judge rejected a dramatic and desperate last-minute request for an adjournment.

The following April Vas was sentenced to eight years in state prison, and required to serve at least five years before he was eligible for parole. The state sentence ran concurrent with the federal term.

He pleaded guilty in state court two counts of official misconduct and single counts of theft and money laundering to receive illegal campaign contributions.

Vas was accused of billing the city of Perth Amboy for $5,000 worth of clothing, sneakers and other personal items, and of conspiring to rig a lottery that gave city employee Anthony Jones the chance to buy a house built through a federal program for first-time home buyers.

Melvin Ramos, Vas's aide, was a co-defendant in the federal and state cases. Ramos was also convicted in federal court and pleaded guilty to state corruption charges. However, he received shorter sentences. He completed a state prison sentence in 2013 and a federal term in 2014, according to public records.

Balut said Ramos has since returned to Perth Amboy.

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Would airport links damage Port Authority credit rating?

AirTrain at Newark (NJ) Airport

A board member at the bistate agency joins some transit watchdogs saying few riders will use LaGuardia AirTrain
or PATH extension

Daniel Geiger reports for Crain's

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's passage of its largest ever capital plan on Thursday didn't come without reservations from at least one of its board members.
During a public board meeting at the bistate agency's lower Manhattan headquarters, Ken Lipper, a Port Authority commissioner appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, repeated his opposition to part of the $32 billion plan.

At issue was over $3 billion of spending reserved for an extension of the PATH to the AirTrain system serving Newark Airport, as well as a new AirTrain from Willets Point to LaGuardia Airport.
Lipper, who aired pointed criticism for the projects during a board meeting in December, reasserted his concerns that the two rail links would serve only a small group of riders, would be money losers for the Port and potentially damage its credit rating and fiscal health.
"It will strain the Port Authority," said Lipper, who in his remarks suggested the two projects together will actually cost $4 billion. "I believe $4 billion could be spent where there's greater demand for our services and where there's ridership."
The Port Authority has not yet conducted definitive ridership studies for the rail links that could confirm or refute Lipper's criticism, even though both projects have been discussed for years.
"What hasn't been done—and it should have been done—is an analysis of the ridership and data that would provide a better analytical base for spending the money," the Port Authority's New Jersey appointed chairman John Degnan told Crain's.
But Degnan said the board, including Lipper, ultimately voted unanimously in support for the capital plan because it allows projects to be further reevaluated before they actually break ground and require the agency to spend money.
"There will be several points over the next few years where the board will be called on to advance these projects further and the next time they'll be revisited there will be more ridership data available and more cost updates and more certainty around the projected costs," Degnan said. "That's why all of us were comfortable, including Ken, voting for the capital plan."
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Friday, February 24, 2017

Outraged by vote approving pipeline through NJ Pinelands

Some 600 opponents of a proposed South Jersey Gas pipeline through preserved areas of the New Jersey Pinelands voiced their outrage today at a 9-5 decision by the Pinelands Commission to permit the pipeline installation. The project has been fought in and out of court for years by environmentalists, three former governors, and the commission's two previous directors. NJTV's Brenda Flanagan has the story above.  

                                                                                                         Wayne Parry AP photo 
Wayne Parry covered the story for The Associated Press:

New Jersey environmental regulators on Friday approved a hotly contested plan to run a natural gas pipeline through a federally protected forest preserve amid raucous protests that included drums, tambourines and choruses of "This Land Is Your Land."

The 15-member New Jersey Pinelands Commission voted to approve a plan by South Jersey Gas to run the pipeline through the federally protected Pinelands preserve, where development is drastically restricted. The protesters' loud ruckus drowned out the members, even as they voted nine in favor and five against, with one abstention.

It was the most emotionally charged jobs-vs-environment clash in recent New Jersey history, and was closely watched by environmental and energy groups around the nation, particularly with a new presidential administration seen as more supportive of the energy industry.

"As a priest, I will pray for you when you stand before the throne of God and you are asked to give an accounting of your stewardship of this special ecological area," said Rev. David Stump, a Catholic priest from Jersey City. "May God have mercy on your souls."

"Your legacy is disgraceful!" added Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

The company said the vote "recognizes the energy reliability challenges facing southern New Jersey and the balanced solution this project offers. The careful construction of this pipeline will address the energy demands of 142,000 customers in Cape May and Atlantic counties, protect and create jobs, and provide a meaningful opportunity to significantly reduce air emissions."

The B.L. England power plant, where the pipeline would end, currently burns coal and oil to generate electricity.

"The use of natural gas and state-of-the-art emissions control technology, together, can turn the facility into a cleaner and more efficient generator of electricity for the people of south Jersey," RC Cape May Holdings, the plant's owners, said in a statement after the vote.

Protesters repeatedly disrupted the meeting, chanting "No! No! No!" for nearly 10 minutes when the commission was about to vote. They burst into song in protest whenever a commissioner voted in favor of the plan.

After the plan was approved, they chanted, "Shame on you!" and "See you in court!" Pipeline supporters including construction workers, though greatly outnumbered, chanted "USA! USA!"

Tittel said his and other environmental groups plan to challenge the approval in court on numerous procedural and factual grounds, hoping to delay it long enough for New Jersey's next governor to appoint Pinelands commissioners that will reverse the decision. Republican Gov. Chris Christie's successor will be elected in November.

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The 22-mile pipeline plan was narrowly defeated in 2014. But since then, Christie has replaced several Pinelands commissioners with supporters of the pipeline.

Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, called the vote "a symptom of what's going on nationally" regarding pipeline projects.

South Jersey Gas plans to run the pipeline mostly under or alongside existing roads. The company says it already operates over 1,400 miles of gas mains and 133 miles of elevated pressure lines within the Pinelands without harming the environment.

After the proposal was defeated in 2014, the executive director of the Pinelands Commission unilaterally decided that it met the agency's criteria and was therefore approved. Environmentalists sued, and a court ordered the commission to take a new vote. 

Read more here:
Environmental groups fear the pipeline will harm the fragile Pinelands and set a bad precedent for future development. They say it will cause a loss of habitat and increase runoff and erosion in an area that is home to an aquifer that is estimated to hold 17 trillion gallons of some of the nation's purest water.

South Jersey Gas maintains that in addition to providing a cleaner fuel source to the power plant, the new pipeline would provide a second transmission vehicle for natural gas to customers in the two southern New Jersey counties. Currently, only one pipeline takes gas to nearly 29,000 homes and businesses, which could be left out in the cold without a second way of getting gas to their homes if the existing pipeline fails.

New Yorkers: Don't park your barge on my Hudson River

 Scott Fallon reports for The Record:

Just north of the George Washington Bridge near the preserved banks of Palisades Interstate Park lies a 715-acre section of the Hudson River that could soon become a virtual parking lot for the scores of oil barges that travel the waterway.

The U.S. Coast Guard is evaluating a proposal that would allow up to 16 barges to drop anchor in the middle of the river between Alpine and Yonkers, N.Y., to accommodate an expected increase in the amount of oil hauled to and from Albany N.Y.

It is the largest and southernmost of seven proposed anchorages on the Hudson, and has galvanized local officials, residents and environmental groups in New York. They say the plan is an environmental threat that will “re-industrialize” the river, make it unsightly and increase the risk of an oil spill. Supporters say it will make the river safer by having more places to anchor with increased traffic.

The issue, however, has gone largely unnoticed in New Jersey even though more people live along the state’s 26 miles of waterfront than ever before. Of the 10,212 comments sent to the Coast Guard about the project, few came from New Jersey.

“It’s the forgotten river for so many here, but this proposal will affect New Jersey, no question,” said Gil Hawkins, president of the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association, who lives in Leonia. “When you go to the Palisades and look down and see these giant oil barges instead of small boats or eagles hunting fish, maybe then people will realize how important this issue is.”

PILGRIM: It could be N.J.'s oil pipeline to nowhere
POLLUTION: Patrolling Hudson River for signs of trouble
RECOVERING: Whale's visit a good sign for healthier Hudson

Over the past five years, the Hudson River has become a major transportation route for crude oil, with millions of gallons transported from upstate New York to refineries, including Bayway in Linden. The crude originates from the oil boom in North Dakota and is shipped by rail to Albany, where New York officials have allowed the amount handled at the city's port to triple to 2.8 billion gallons annually.

While it is a boon for domestic oil production, it has raised concerns about the risk of a spill on the recovering waterway, though oil barges are required to have double hulls and there have been no major spills on the river. A tanker carrying crude ran aground near Albany in December 2012 and ruptured its outer hull but did not spill any of its 12 million gallons of oil.

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Water pollution settlement delayed in Hoosick Falls, NY

Marie J. French reports for Politico/NY:

HOOSICK FALLS (NY) — The village board decided on Thursday to postpone discussion of a revised settlement with two companies held responsible for polluting the water here with PFOA.

Mayor David Borge said a village trustee had a family health emergency and would not be present at the meeting. That's why he wanted to postpone any action on the $1 million settlement with the two companies, Saint Gobain and Honeywell.

Residents had gathered in the Hoosick Armory in anticipation of the meeting, with some holding cardboard signs that read, “Deeply Polluted Village, Deeply Flawed Settlement” and “Clean Water Doesn’t Come Cheap.”

Borge’s announcement drew shouts of outrage from residents. “You’re running like a coward,” shouted Hoosick Falls resident Desiray Rice as Borge headed toward the door.

The revised settlement has drawn criticism from former EPA chief Judith Enck, former state Department of Health official Dr. Howard Freed and a lawyer with Healthy Hoosick Water, an advocacy group. The settlement includes a release of any future claims by the village over PFOA contamination in the village’s existing water supply.

The $1 million figure is $195,000 more than a previous settlement proposal that residents fiercely criticized at a lengthy public meeting in January. About half will go to pay lawyers, engineering and communications consultants hired by the village. The rest will cover the village’s losses from decreased water use and other costs of dealing with the crisis.

Residents are still not happy with the proposal. “We all vote no,” a group chanted immediately after Borge’s announcement.

“This is not serving the village. This is reckless and laughable,” said Silvia Potter, a resident of Hoosick Falls.

David Engel, the lawyer with Health Hoosick Water, said earlier this week that the settlement should either be much larger or not include a release for future claims.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Congress can't duck reinvigorated voters left and right

Yay or Nay

During a long stretch during his two-year term in office, NJ Gov. Chris Christie developed a potent political weapon--the Town Hall Meeting.  His skilled staff booked the events in friendly districts, seeded the audience with pro-Christie voters and provided props, backdrops and signs all designed to give Christie the best chance to advance his legislative agenda, torment Democrats, and boost his national recognition in advance of what everyone knew back then was his coming presidential bid.

Members of Congress saw how well it worked and began scheduling their own Town Halls. They used the vehicle to demonstrate to the folks back in their districts how on top of things they were. Good news coverage generally followed.

Now the folks back home are demanding that what used to be a one-way publicity stunt to function the way they want. They want to talk back and let Mr./Ms. Congressperson know that they're mad as hell with the way things are going, regardless of their voter affiliation or leaning.

Uh oh.  Just like the rest of us, Congress people want to be liked. Not insulted. Not questioned, especially by people who are more attuned than ever to the BS lines designed to deflect the topic.

So a number of Washington leaders are no longer holding Town Halls. That isn't pleasing constituents one bit. Those who swallow hard and wade into the fray might be scoring points for courage but they're still sweating the experience.

Witness NJ Rep Leonard Lance's Town Hall last night.

The Washington Post

Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) faced a record crowd at a town hall meeting Wednesday night where audience members pressed him to urge President Trump to release his tax returns and investigate Russia’s interference in U.S. elections.
In what his office said was the largest turnout of his congressional career, more than 900 people were packed in a community college auditorium, the largest such space in his district, and an overflow room was filled with another 250 people. More than 350 protesters gathered outside.
Leonard Lance meets constituents at Town Hall Feb 22 2017 Dominick Reuter photo for Reuters“I believe those in the audience were constituents,” Lance said afterward. “I don’t believe they were paid.”
Lance faced countless hecklers shouting “Do your job!” and “Answer the question!” Audience members rose to their feet when demanding that Trump release his tax returns, and for Lance and all other politicians to “put country before party.”
In the end, Lance said he felt that “the vast majority tried to listen to my responses.”

What happens if you stop holding Town Halls?
Brick (NJ) Patch reports today:

Frustrated that Rep. Tom MacArthur will not hold a face-to-face town hall meeting, a group of Ocean County constituents are planning to protest Thursday evening outside the offices of WOBM, the radio station where MacArthur conducts a regular "Ask the Congressman" radio call-in show.
MacArthur is scheduled to be on the radio station at 7 p.m. Thursday for the monthly show, which airs on WOBM 1160 AM and can be heard online at
"Representative MacArthur is on record as saying that he doesn't want to host an open Town Hall meeting because "paid" protesters might prevent him from hearing from his constituents.

Let's gather outside the station to let him know that we are REAL, UNPAID, FIRED UP people who will actively resist the Trump/MacArthur agenda," the protest organizers said in a Facebook event posting about the protest.
Protesters are being urged to meet outside the Ocean County Library's main branch in Toms River at 101 Washington St. at 6 p.m., with the plan to walk to the offices of WOBM on Robbins Street at 6:15 p.m. with the hope of seeing MacArthur as he walks into the office for the radio show.
What’s your take on this? Have you been to a town hall? What was your impression? Will your congressperson’s attendance or ducking affect your vote next time around? Will voter fire sizzle when summer arrives?  Tell us in the ‘comment’ box below.
If it balks, use the comment function on our Facebook page

There's a dark side (as usual) to this bright weather

Warm weather could cause some plants to bloom early, which could be harmful when cold weather returns

The Record's James M. O'Neil provides this humbug report:

So you’re indulging in this freaky-warm un-February, eh?

Celebrating your snow-free driveway. Cheering that iceless windshield. Basking in false spring temperatures reaching into the 50s, 60s and even – possibly Friday – the 70s.

But even with great winter weather, there’s no free lunch.

This February, which could end up one of the three warmest on record in New Jersey, is coaxing tree and shrub buds to start swelling early. That should continue as forecasters predict warmer than normal temperatures for at least two more weeks.

But if we get blasted with a cold snap and frosty nights, those buds could be killed off.

WARMING: Temperature could hit 70 degrees
MILD TEMPS: Why has it been so weirdly warm this winter?

And suddenly, poof – there go the state’s colorful spring landscapes of blooming magnolias, cherry trees and ornamental pear trees, reduced to burnt brown petals hanging limply from their branches.

It happened last spring to saucer magnolias, which were in full pink flower when the temperature dropped one night to 20 degrees. “The petals were hanging all brown into late May,” said Bruce Crawford, director of the 200-acre Rutgers Gardens in New Brunswick. “It was really unappealing. But there’s really nothing you can do about it.”

Kevin Eisele of Eisele’s Nursery and Garden Center in Paramus agreed. “We just have to hope it cools down again soon,” he said, which could suppress buds from continuing to swell. “Otherwise certain species of plants probably will get hurt.”

Any early-spring flowering trees could be affected, said Bill Zipse, regional forester for the state Forest Service. “We’ll have to keep watch over the next few weeks for potential frost damage,” he said.

Native dogwoods, whose striking four-petal pink or white flowers are really modified leaves called bracts, often lose the outer two bracts if a frost hits while the trees are still budding, reducing their aesthetic impact.

Another highly susceptible landscape plant is the non-native hydrangea. Because they grow buds on old wood from the prior year, they can start early, but if they start drawing water up into the stems and cold weather sets in, the water freezes, stem cells burst, and the plant won’t produce its distinctive blue and pink pom-pom flowers that summer.

“They really take it on the chin,” Crawford said.

Buds on other trees have also started to swell, such as silver maple and red maple. Mike Limatola, marsh warden at Celery Farm in Allendale, said he saw buds swelling on maple trees there over the weekend.

While trees can’t grow new flower buds if killed off, they can grow new leaf buds, Zipse said. But repeated seasons with early growth followed by cold weather and lost buds can stress some trees, experts say.

With a warmer winter, plants are also susceptible to increased pest infestations, both the insect and fungal variety. Without cold temperatures to kill off much of the pest populations, they can get started even earlier attacking their host plants, said Todd Wyckoff, bureau chief for the state Forest Service.

Read the full, balloon-busting story here

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Big energy upgrades for two state buildings in Trenton, NJ

The Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection building are in store for energy makeovers that are expected to save more than a half million dollars annually.
Tom Johnson reports for NJ Spotlight:
The state Board of Public Utilities yesterday approved plans for energy conservation projects for the two prominent Trenton buildings, along with the East Hanover school district and two buildings in Jersey City, totaling $8.2 million through the New Jersey Clean Energy program.
NJDEP headquarters in Trenton, NJ
The program provides a range of financial incentives to help fund energy-efficiency projects for residents, businesses, and government entities, enabling them to conserve energy and reduce utility bills. It is funded through a surcharge on customers’ monthly gas and electric bills.
The savings from the latest round of incentives are projected to run approximately $835,000 a year, according to the BPU.
“Through the implementation of the Christie administration’s state Energy Master Plan, the board continues to encourage and offer significant financial incentives to residents, businesses, local governments, and school districts to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings,’’ said BPU President Richard Mroz.
Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton, NJ
The plan to adopt energy efficiency measures at the two state buildings was undertaken in a memorandum of understanding between the board and the state Department of Treasury. As part of the agreement, the board will commit $7.5 million of its fiscal year 2017 clean energy budget to cover the costs of the two projects. The justice complex will receive $5.7 million, the DEP $1.8 million.
Currently, the total utility bills for the Hughes justice complex are roughly $4.2 million. With replacement of its heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning controls and other improvements to its heating/cooling and lighting systems, it is projected the savings yearly will amount to roughly $496,000.
The DEP building on East State Street spends nearly $1 million on utility expenses annually. Energy conservation projects at the building are expected to save $148,900 a year, according to the board.
“The equipment upgrades to these buildings will result in energy, operation, and maintenance cost-savings for the state,’’ said Chris Chianese, director of the Division of Property Management and Construction in the Treasury Department.
The board also approved an application by Summit Plaza in Jersey City to install three natural-gas-fueled engines to serve two multifamily buildings. The combined heat and power (CHP) system will cost about $2 million and save roughly $180,000 a year in energy costs. The incentive amounted to $600,000.
In addition, the BPU approved a fuel-cell/CHP system for the East Hanover school system with an incentive of $135,537.
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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Pinelands battle almost as long as the pipeline itself

                                  Photo Credit: Inquirer staff photographer Akira Suwa
With a crucial vote set for Friday, conservationists rallied outside the State House yesterday--the latest action in their six-year bid to halt the approval of a controversial and much-litigated pipeline through parts of the Pinelands.

Tom Johnson reports for NJ Spotlight:
A few dozen environmentalists renewed their opposition to the 22-mile pipeline, which will allow the B.L. England power plant at Beesley’s Point to convert from coal to natural gas in a proposal that has been before the Pinelands Commission for six years.
The project is the most contentious issue to emerge in the Pinelands, a more than 1-million-acre preserve set aside four decades ago to protect a vast, mostly unbroken forest sitting above one of the largest aquifers in the region. It has drawn opposition from four former governors, two former executive directors of the commission, and virtually all of the state’s environmental community.
The agency initially balked at approving the project, which fails to comply with its own Comprehensive Management Plan. Nancy Wittenberg, its executive director, last week issued a 24-page letter recommending the commission approve the plan, reversing a previous staff determination based on new documentation submitted into the record.
b.l. england
Credit: Kirk Moore
B.L. England power plant in Cape May County
Whatever decision emerges from what is expected to be a packed meeting in Cherry Hill, the issue is likely to wind up back in court, which reversed a prior ruling by Wittenberg endorsing the project pushed by South Jersey Gas. A state appeals court kicked the issue back to the full commission.
In making a case to reject the proposal, environmentalists yesterday blamed political interference from Gov. Chris Christie for refusing to allow the project to die.
“The South Jersey Gas pipeline does not meet the standards in the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan and regardless of political influence, the commissioners need to do what is right and support the regulations,’’ said Jaclyn Rhoads, assistant executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. “The Pinelands commissioners took an oath to protect the Pinelands and they need to uphold the rules of the CMP.’’
“Friday is probably the most important vote in its 40-year history,’’ added Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Together we are in Trenton telling the governor and his cronies that they must protect the Pinelands and the people of New Jersey.’’
The project, touted as helping supply the power needs of the people who live in the Pinelands, is backed by most business interests, many legislators, and organized labor. If the project is not built, the B.L. England plant will have to shut down under a consent decree with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Opponents argue that besides failing to comply with the CMP, the pipeline isn’t necessary and would not serve the needs of the Pinelands. They also say that it threatens the acquifer underlying the region, points disputed by Wittenberg in her letter.
“This is a battle about the independence of commissions,’’ argued Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

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