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Pinelands Commission Will Vote On Resolution To Approve Pipeline On Friday With No Public Comment

Executive Director recommends approval with conditions

A brazen move at the end of the road of a cynical and sham process

The Pinelands Commission will meet on Friday February 24, 2017.

According to the meeting information packet, Executive Direct Wittenberg recommends approval of the South Jersey Gas Co.’s proposed pipeline:

Remanded Items

The Appellate Division remanded the following development application back to the Commission for a final decision. The application is being recommended for approval with conditions.

1. SOUTH JERSEY GAS, City of Estell Manor, Maurice River Township and Upper Township, Pinelands Rural Development Area, Pinelands Forest Area and Pinelands Villages, Installation of 15 miles of 24 inch natural gas main within existing road rights-of- way in the Pinelands Area.

Remarkably, the agenda for the meeting will result in the Commission vote on the South Jersey Gas Co.’s proposed pipeline with no public comment.

I previously flagged this possibility, but doubted that the Commission would be that brazen:

because this is a regular Commission meeting and NOT a public hearing on the pipeline, the Commission could vote to approve the SJG pipeline BEFORE the public comment section of the meeting and allow the public comment AFTER approval! I doubt they would be so brazen, but they could do it.

The pipeline is not named on the agenda – nor is the Court’s remand or the Executive Director’s recommendation for approval with conditions, an unprofessional, non-transparent stealth move given the extreme controversy surrounding this pipeline. The agenda and packet were released publicly late Friday and today (Monday) is a holiday, so the public will have just 3 days to react to this brazen move, the latest in a series over a 4 year saga.

Undoubtedly, many people will review the agenda (and not the packet) and be misled.

The public comment period for the proposed pipeline is closed. There was a written comment period but technically, no formal “public hearing” on the proposed SJG application.

The public hearing process was limited to regular Commission meetings, which began at 9:30 am and lacked adequate capacity to allow hundreds of people to testify. The Commission cancelled a regularly scheduled meeting on February 10, which reduced an opportunity for the public to present comments to the Commission.

Worse, the Commission failed to fully comply with the Appellate Court’s remand, particularly regarding the need to revise the CMP to remedy deficiencies in the “coordinated state agency permitting” provisions of the CMP and -implicitly – to restrict the powers of the Executive Director that had been abused and rejected by the Court.

Additionally, the public notice included the Executive Director’s finding of consistency with the CMP and recommended approval – which was struck down by the Appellate Division as a violation of law. Instead, the public notice and comment should have been limited to the proposed revised SJG application.

The public has not had – and will to have have an opportunity at Friday’s meeting – to review the draft proposed Resolution of approval or the Executive Director’s Recommendation Report for approval or the adequacy of the conditions of approval.

That is a result of the fact that Commission procedures do NOT require an opportunity for public comment before a proposed Resolution is introduced, seconded, discussed, and then voted upon.

However, the Commission has the discretion to modify its procedures on a case by case basis to allow public review and comment on the proposed Resolution of approval, once it is introduced.

Equally, there has been no opportunity for the public to review the Executive Director’s recommendations or the proposed conditions of approval.

Given the extreme controversy and the lack of public review of the Resolution, ED recommendations and conditions, the Commission should allow public comment period BEFORE they vote on the pipeline.

I can’t imagine the scene if 1,500 people show up at the “Grand Ballroom” on Friday and are not allowed to speak before the Commission approves the pipeline.

[End Note: I currently am reviewing ED Wittenberg’s February 27, 2017 “Recommendation Report” (A Friday night massacre! Way at the end of the packet!) and will post in future an analysis of what is says.

I’d have liked to have an opportunity to file an OPRA to determine whether SJG lawyers wrote this one, like they did the last time!!!!

But the Commission’s procedure makes that impossible. Just another legal flaw and litigation hook.]

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