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Christie DEP Approves Another Pipeline Through Pinelands

March 8th, 2017 No comments

DEP issued permits for NJ Natural Gas the same day Pinelands Commission OK’d SJG

Accelerating climate catastrophe ignored – again

We got a heads up on this last week from Agnes Marsala, head of People Over Pipelines, so we were not surprised by Dave Levinsky’s Burlington County Times report today:

New Jersey Natural Gas’ proposed gas pipeline through northern Burlington, Monmouth and Ocean counties has cleared another regulatory hurdle. … The permits were awarded Feb. 24…

The permits were received the same day the [Pinelands] commission approved construction of another pipeline through part of the Pinelands in Cape May County. That decision was blasted by environmental groups, who fear it might set a precedent for approving other pipelines like New Jersey Natural Gas’ Southern Reliability Link. …

“(Gov. Chris) Christie’s one-two attack on the environment delivered Friday, Feb. 24th, marks a desperate, end-game attempt to ram as much unnecessary, permanent fossil fuel infrastructure as possible through the Garden State before his term expires,” said Agnes Marsala, president of the group.

We told you that would happen:

NJ Natural Gas Pipeline Next In Line for the Christie – Wittenberg Rubber Stamp

The record setting Christie DEP press office – who has issued more press releases by far than any other – didn’t issue a press release. Not even a Friday afternoon dump.

Not only did DEP try to keep this quiet and under the radar, instead, when they knew the press was working on a pipeline story, they cynically put out a self serving diversionary smokescreen to create the appearance of protecting the Pinelands (see this). (this is a longstanding and shameless abuse, especially for climate related issues).

Like the South Jersey Gas pipeline, this NJNG pipeline also has a particularly corrupt regulatory history at BPU (see this and this), the Pinelands Commission, and the DEP. Lets look at DEP.

The Christie DEP not only bent the rules to approve this pipeline, remarkably, they actually changed the rules to make it easier for pipelines!

The DEP rolled back protections under the Flood Hazard Act (stream encroachment permits) to issue and essentially deregulate and privatize stream encroachment permits under what is called a “Permit by Rule” (see this for details:

Keep in mind that the rollback of those stream encroachment rules weakened other critical protections for streams (see: The Case for a Legislative Veto) that apply statewide (and not only to pipelines).

The rollbacks made it cheaper for energy corporations to comply with rules, increased allowable disturbance and destruction of environmentally sensitive lands, reduced or eliminated mitigation requirements, made it easier for DEP to approve pipelines, and much harder for the public to challenge them.

Environmental groups mounted a strong opposition to the DEP rollbacks and Legislators promised to veto them. But that veto was abandoned.

So, folks need to criticize not only the Christie DEP, but Democratic legislators who failed to honor their pledge to veto those rules (see:

The regulatory game is rigged and the corruption is bi-partisan.

Hopefully, the courts will uphold the lawsuits that are certain to be filed by environmental groups.

As citizens, our only recourse at this point is protest, direct action, and civil disobedience.

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Christie DEP Set To Issue Controversial Compressor Station and Pinelands Pipeline Permits

December 26th, 2016 No comments

Documents Show DEP Repeatedly Lied About Stream Buffer Rollbacks

“Response to public comments” opens door to abuse

The skids have been greased – the DEP permit process is rigged

groundwater monitoring wells, Williams compressor station site, Chesterfield NJ (12/26/16)

recently installed groundwater monitoring wells, compressor station site, Chesterfield NJ (12/26/16)

Given how the Pinelands Commission responded to the Court’s remand and the fast track BPU amendment of the Orders in response, we can only assume that DEP will jump on the bandwagon and issue the DEP permits BEFORE THE PINELANDS COMMISSION’S PUBLIC HEARING ON THE *SJG PIPELINE ON JANUARY 24.

A lot of complex moving parts here, so pay attention!

According to *documents* obtained by the Pinelands Preservation Alliance under NJ’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA), it appears that the Christie DEP is ready to issue environmental permits for the controversial Transco compressor station (“Garden State Expansion” (GSE)) to serve the NJ Natural Gas’ (NJNG) proposed “Southern Reliability Link” (SRL) and the South Jersey Gas pipelines (SJG). Both pipelines go through the Pinelands National Reserve and were blocked by lawsuits filed by environmental groups. The compressor station is planned to be located in forested wetlands and farm fields in Chesterfield, outside but on the northern edge of the Pinelands.

These DEP permit documents also provide a smoking gun: they prove that DEP lied repeatedly to legislators, the media, EPA and the public about whether DEP’s massive 1,000+ page “overhaul” and “re-alliagnment” (DEP’s words) of the flood hazard act (stream encroachment) regulations would weaken protections and make it easier for pipelines to secure DEP permits.

DEP repeatedly claimed the the proposal would merely “streamline” the permit process and maintain current standards and protections. DEP claimed that environmental critics simply were wrong and did not understand the rule.

Those DEP lies derailed a pending Legislative Veto of the rules, and provided political cover for a dirty deal between Senate President Sweeney and Gov. Christie.

But buried on the final page of a complex 14 page December 2, 2016 letter from Williams (Transco, GSE) to DEP, we find this smoking gun admission that DEP’s rules weakened stream buffer protections:

screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-11-39-46-am

Got that? Let me repeat: Transco noted that  “change in the Flood Hazard Act Control Act Rules (sic) eliminat[ed] the 150 feet riparian zone” and that now there is a “50 foot riparian zone now present on site”.

DEP lied about how that was done too – i.e. under revised and weaker standards to obtain a “Permit by rule” (PBR). On day one, we told you so:

  • proposes 19 new permits-by-rule (PBR). There is no DEP or public review of a PBR.

Recent background

The overall project involves BPU, Pinelands Commission, and DEP approvals.

On December 9, 2016, the Pinelands Commission announced plans to fast track approval of two controversial natural gas pipelines: NJNG SRL and the SJG pipeline. The Commission schduled a public comment period and public hearing on the SJG pipeline for Jan 24, 2017 and passed a Resolution seeking to consolidate the NJNG and SJG litigation.

The Commission was forced to respond to a November 7, 2016 decision by the Appellate Division that found the prior unilateral approval by Executive Director Wittenberg violated the Pinelands Act. The Court directed the Commission to hold public hearings and determine whether the SJG pipeline was consistent with the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP).

Wasting no time, the following Monday (12/12/16), the Christie Board of Public Utilities (BPU) quickly followed suit and responded to the Court by rubber stamping and revising prior approval Orders, as the Court directed.

Like the Pinelands Commission, BPU also ignored the Court’s mandate to revise the Pinelands CMP to address “coordinating permitting by state agencies“. After a detailed discussion of how Wittenberg violated the Pinelands Act and applied the CMP regulations to, among other things, the “coordinating permitting by state agencies”, the court directed (see the Court’s opinion @ page 20 – 24):

The Commission shall consider whether the same or similar procedures should be followed in reviewing Wittenberg’s decision. (p. 24)

Both the Commission and the BPU failed to consider and comply the Court’s mandate with respect to “coordinating permitting by state agencies” before they reconsidered prior approvals overruled by the Court.

DEP Environmental Permits

During the same timeframe that the BPU and Pinelands Commission were engaged in behind the scenes moves, the Christie DEP also has been quietly working behind the scenes to facilitate approval of pending freshwater wetlands, dewatering, and coastal zone permits for the compressor station and NJNG SRL pipeline, including a critical Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification.

The dewatering permit for the compressor station has been held up since May. One of the key issues raised by opponents was whether construction would harm nearby wetlands and residential drinking water and agricultural irrigation wells. As the photo above shows, DEP required that Transco install groundwater monitoring wells. I suspect that this will be the cover for DEP approval of this permit: “don’t worry, we’re monitoring the situation”.

Opponents should demand that DEP require at least 4 quarters of groundwater elevation and water quality data before issuing the dewatering permit.

Similarly, for the same reason DEP required groundwater monitor wells, the project applicants should be required to collect at least 4 quarters of surface water monitoring data to document “existing water quality”, including existing biological uses.

The compressor station and NJNG SRL pipeline also must obtain freshwater wetlands and CAFRA permits. Under an EPA delegation agreement, the DEP State wetlands permit satisfies the federal Clean Water Act 401 Water Quality Certification.

After huge public turnout force cancellation of hearings back in August on wetlands and CAFRA permits, DEP held a series of public hearings on those permits, the final one was held on October 19.

Since then, DEP has been working with Transco GSE (compressor station) and NJNG SRL pipeline. It looks like DEP has sent two letter to Transco and Transco sent 2 replies. I don’t now if these are all the documents. I don’t have the DEP letters.

The most recent documents obtained by PPA involve the response to public comments on the compressor station and NJNG SRL pipeline wetlands permits.

The documents discuss a range of about a 15 technical issues – curiously they are silent on the 401 WQ Certification – but Transco and DEP seem to be focused on the alternatives analysis for the compressor station required under the wetlands rules. Here’s how Transco sees things (12/2/16 letter):

screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-1-41-50-pm

I need to review Attachment A, but there obviously are alternatives “which would have a less adverse impact on the aquatic ecosystem”, so DEP may have a strong basis to deny this permit. We won’t hold our breath for that!

Transco says they’re just responding to public comment. But obviously they are providing legal and technical defenses and are provided with another shot at persuading DEP – an opportunity the public does not have!

Here’s how Transco summarizes the conversation, at the close of a November 10, 2016 letter to DEP:

screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-1-14-44-pm

Transco merely seeks “to assist the Department with the task of responding to all comments” in “preparation of the approved permit.”

Right.

The DEP permit process is rigged

The permit process is heavily biased in favor of the permit applicant not the public.

The bias is present at the beginning and the end of the process.

At the beginning, months before the project was announced publicly, Transco, NJNG, and SJG were given multiple opportunities to meet with DEP staffers and managers.

Those meetings are known as “pre-application conferences”. They are secret and not subject to OPRA. (Listen to how the Pinelands Commission got caught on tape responding to my criticism of “pre-application conferences” with SJG pipeline.)

Those meetings provide access to DEP technical staff and upper management. They allow permittees to understand how DEP interprets the regulations and how to comply with them. They basically iron out all problems in advance and receive conceptual approval of a project before the public is even aware of the existence of a project.

After many months of technical coordination, the public then gets to comment on draft permits at the end of the process.

In this case, DEP held public hearings on the permit applications, not draft permits.

This process allowed the permit applicants to get another bite at the apple and fix any deficiencies the public identified during comments!

But Transco wants even more! They want DEP to provide any additional “new comments” to them as a courtesy so that they can “review and respond” to them –

screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-1-29-24-pm

In contrast, the public must file OPRA requests to obtain this kind of information and has no opportunity to respond to it (a repeat of getting shut out of the secret pre-application conference process).

The DEP permit process is rigged.

Given how the Pinelands Commission responded to the Court’s remand and the fast track BPU amendment of the Orders in response, we can only assume that DEP will jump on the bandwagon and issue the DEP permits BEFORE THE PINELANDS COMMISSION”S PUBLIC HEARING ON THE SJG PIPELINE ON JANUARY 24.

[* Documents provided as PDF’s upon request – sorry I don’t have them as links.]

[*Correction – I stand corrected (h/t to Theresa Lettman of PPA). I incorrectly combined the Pinelands Commission’s public hearing for the SJG and NJNG pipelines. The Jan 24 hearing is only for the SJG pipeline.

But that is merely a procedural technicality on the scheduling of the public comment and hearings.

Under the Appellate Court decision, the SJG case set the precedent for the NJNG pipeline.

Recognizing that legal reality, the Pinelands Commission passed two Resolutions on 12/9  –  Res. # 4-16-43 sought to consolidate SJG and NJNG cases:

https://connect.xfinity.com/appsuite/#!!&app=io.ox/mail/compose

So, in addition to the Court’s legal precedent, it is only a matter of time before the Commission public notices the NJNG pipeline based on the SJG process.

As we noted, the Commission signaled a rubber stamp on the SJG pipeline.

So, as a matter of law and policy, NJNG approval will closlely follow the SJG approval.

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Christie DEP Will Hold Public Hearings On Water Permits For Controversial Pinelands Pipeline and Compressor Station

July 23rd, 2016 No comments

Public Hearings Held Just As Activists Begin To Target Key DEP Water Quality Power

Christie DEP will no longer get a pass for rubber stamping pipeline permits

DEP DENY 401 WQC – NO PIPELINES IN PINELANDS

DEP DENY 401 WQC – NO PIPELINES IN PINELANDS

There are important developments in the NJ Natural Gas Pinelands pipeline known as the “Southern Reliability Link” (SRL) and Transco compressor station in Chesterfield.

Before discussing them, first, let me rehash important points to set the context:

  • During the April DEP dewatering permit review process for the compressor station, I raised objections regarding failure to comply with DEP’s wetlands and Clean Water Act 401 water quality certificate regulations, among other things that it was premature to issue the dewatering permit before the DEP wetlands permit and Water Quality Certificate (WQC) were issued for the compressor station and pipeline.
  • On May 9, 2016, Bordentown and Chesterfield filed a rehearing request to FERC that argued, among other things, that FERC improperly granted approval before NJ DEP Water Quality Certification (WQC) was granted.
  • On June 30, 2016, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) granted numerous public and local government requests to hold a public hearing on the wetlands permit (and WQC) for the Chesterfield compressor station, known as the Transco Garden State Expansion Project.
  • The next day, in a July 1, 2016 letter, Transco asked FERC for approval to commence construction of the compressor station, despite not having all DEP permits and a 401 WQC.
  • On July 6, FERC denied that Transco request until “Transco obtains a Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certificate and Section 404 Permit from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection”

For the irony of FERC finally triggering a long ignored public focus on NJ DEP permits and WQC, see:

Since then, activists have held protests and organized locally, generating local Resolutions and scores of letters to DEP Commissioner Martin demanding that DEP deny the water quality certificates for the compressor station and the NJNJ SRL pipeline.

People Over Pipelines protest (North Hanover, NJ - 7/16/16)

People Over Pipelines protest (North Hanover, NJ – 7/16/16)

Those efforts are growing – the Christie DEP will no longer get a pass for rubber stamping pipeline permits.

The DEP’s June 30 letter said that there would be a public hearing, but it didn’t say when and where it would be.

There was longstanding confusion over exactly what DEP permits were required for the compressor station and the NJ Natural Gas SRL pipeline, how these permits related to the Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification, and what the status of those permits was.

I wrote that DEP was allowing Transco and NJ Natural Gas to illegally segment the compressor station and pipeline for purposes of DEP permits in violation of DEP permit regulations (others had made a segmentation argument with FERC regarding the NEPA environmental assessment process, but that argument is very weak and NEPA has no regulatory teeth).

So, with that context in mind, the July 20, 2016  DEP Bulletin published the following public hearings on August 22 and September 7 for BOTH the compressor station and pipeline:

1. Compressor station:

Garden State Expansion – Compressor Station

FRESHWATER INDIVIDUAL PERMIT

Application # – 0300-15-0002.2 FWW150001

Public hearing Monday, August 22, 2016, Ramada Inn, 1083 US 206, Bordentown @ 6 p.m.

Written Comments by September 6, 2016

2. Southern Reliability Link pipeline

New Jersey Natural Gas – Southern Reliability Link

CAFRA IP, FRESHWATER WETLANDS GP2, FLOOD HAZARD

Application #’s – 0000-15-0007.1 CAF150001, FWW150001 and FHA150001

Public hearing Wednesday, September 7, 2016, Ramada Inn, 1083 US 206, Bordentown @ 6 p.m.

Written Comments by September 22, 2016 (15 days from hearing)

Public notice will appear in the August 3, 2016  DEP Bulletin

These two public hearings provide a HUGE opportunity for mounting a concerted attack on the pipeline project.

The Water Quality Certificate issue will be front and center in both the wetlands General Permit and the CAFRA Individual permit.

Between now and the first August 22 public hearing, the activists really need to organize and ramp up public pressure on the DEP and assure a huge turnout for those hearings.

At the same time, activists need to craft a regulatory strategy on how best to attack these permits – and collect data to support that attack. I will be writing more specifically on these issues in upcoming posts.

Unfortunately, the very late start of the activists campaign in targeting the DEP 401 WQC and permit issues makes this a huge challenge.

Transco submitted permit applications to the DEP way back in July 2015.

Prior to that, they certainly had MONTHS of behind closed doors “pre-application meetings” with DEP professional staff and political managers.

Those meetings very likely ironed out the details and laid the groundwork for DEP approvals – all without any public awareness or organized opposition by activists.

Amazingly, a DEP permit staffer wrote that NJ Natural Gas had not submitted an administratively complete permit application until very recently, July 8, 2016:

we did not have an administratively complete application for NJNG until July 8, 2016.

The administrative complete” determination is the FIRST step in the permit process. That means DEP reviewed the NJNG permit applications is LESS THAN A MONTH!

In comparison, Transco compressor station permits were under review for over a year.

We can not longer tolerate this abuse and must stop allowing it to happen.

This is not a wasted effort – Gov. Christie is gone soon and a Governor’s race issues agenda is being framed up right now – this issue must be on that agenda and its our job to put it there.

pipe wq9

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Christie BPU Commissioners Literally Run and Hide From Protesters of Pinelands Pipeline

March 18th, 2016 No comments

Commissioners show contempt for democracy

BPU President Mroz is an unethical flat out liar

BPU President Mroz (Source: BlueJersey video)

BPU President Mroz (Source: BlueJersey video)

Protesters disrupted the BPU rubber stamp approval of the NJ Natural Gas Co.’s Orwellian named “Southern Reliability Link” pipeline through the Pinelands today.

Showing their utter disregard and contempt for democracy, BPU President Mroz immediately gaveled the meeting into adjournment and the BPU Commissioners abandoned their seats and left the room to avoid listening to the protesters.

The protest marks a new and escalating tactical engagement in pipeline opposition in NJ. I applaud the protesters and look forward to more and greater events. I had planned to participate, but last minute problems beyond my control kept me away this morning.

The BPU approval pre-empted local government powers to regulate the pipeline, extinguishing the democratic rights of residents of six towns the pipeline passes through.

I’ve written extensively about the many flaws and frauds in the pipeline project and NJ Spotlight ran a set up story, and BlueJersey has good video to watch of the protest event, so I won’t go into much detail with this post.

I must note a few things in response to the lengthy statement read into the record by BPU President Mroz at the end of the hearing.

1. As a former advocate and employee of some of the corporations involved in this project, by any reasonable application of ethical standards, BPU President Mroz has a glaring conflict of interest.

His continued participation in approvals of pipelines and other infrastructure financed by his former corporate cronies is obscene.

2. Mroz repeated what he knows to be two false and manufactured justifications of the pipeline: a) so called “resiliency” as a response to Superstorm Sandy; and b) need for gas at Joint Base MDL.

There is ample evidence in the record that documents these false justifications, and the Joint Base rationale is fraudulent and may constitute criminal activity.

The PPA’s BPU petition destroys the false argument about “resilience” – no transmission pipeline has ever been knocked out by a storm – and documents the real purposes of the pipeline, which are to serve future growth and expand profits at the subsidy and expense of ratepayers.

[Note: there is very plausible speculation that the real goal of this massive 30 inch 722 psi pipeline is to serve a new gas plant at the Oyser Creek nuclear site when it closes in 2019.]

3. Mroz stated that the pipeline was “approved by the Pinelands Commission” as consistent with the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP).

LET ME BE CLEAR: That is a LIE –

The Pinelands Commission NEVER VOTED TO APPROVE THE PIPELINE.

The so called approval and CMP consistently determination was issued unilaterally by Gov. Christie’s installed Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg – not the Commission – who was following Orders of the Governor’s Office, not the direction of the  Pinelands Commission or the requirements of the CMP.

Wittenberg also directly participated in the fabricated fraudulent military need justification to evade Pinelands regulations.

4. The BPU completely ignored climate change.

That is grossly irresponsible.

The debate now shifts to the Courts – let’s hope they uphold the law and reject this fraud and travesty.

Thanks to the Pinelands Preservation Alliance for filing the lawsuit. Maybe this can remain tied up in the courts long enough for the next Governor to kill it.

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Christie BPU Slated To Approve Another Pinelands Pipeline Tomorrow

March 17th, 2016 No comments

Christie’s Climate Defying Fossil Policy Must Be Stopped

[UPDATE – 3/18/16 – Game on! Protesters being dragged out of BPU meeting by police

Protesters being dragged out of BPU meeting by police -Photo by David Giambussso (Twitter) (3/18/16)

Protesters being dragged out of BPU meeting by police -Photo by David Giambussso (Twitter) (3/18/16)

 

As the planet’s temperature just reached a “terrifying milestone” and scientific evidence mounts on the role of methane (natural gas) in warming, tomorrow the Christie Board of Public Utilities (BPU) is expected to rubber stamp approval of yet another major natural gas pipeline fossil fuel infrastructure project.

The NJ Natural Gas Co.’s “Southern Reliability Link” through the Pinelands is on BPU’s agenda – BPU will approve the pipeline AND preempt local control – extinguishing democratic rights – yet no public comment is allowed during the BPU’s hearing tomorrow:

  1. Docket No. GO15040403 – In the Matter of the Petition of New Jersey Natural Gas Company for a Determination Concerning the Southern Reliability Link Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:55D-19 and N.J.S.A. 48:9-25.4.

It is simply insane to be approving more fossil infrastructure given the climate crisis, which demands a dramatic shift in energy infrastructure investments to renewable energy.

Scientists warn that we must leave over 80% of known fossil fuel reserves (coal, oil, & gas) in the ground to avoid exceeding climate tipping points and catastrophic warming that would threaten industrial civilization.

In addition to climate insanity, this pipeline would violate the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan and is based on fraud – the NJNG pipeline planners manufactured a false military need for the project to circumvent Pinelands CMP restrictions.

The Pinelands Preservation Alliance BPU petition absolutely demolished NJNG’s alleged “resilience” justification for the need of the project:

“The undisputed facts unequivocally show that NJNG is not seeking to install its pipeline for “reliability” in case of another natural disaster such as Hurricane Sandy or the Polar Vortex of 2014; it’s simply seeking to increase its profit margin. How do we know this? By simply looking at the numerous contradictions put forth by NJNG. (facts not presented here, full PPA brief provided upon request)

PPA also uncovered emails between NJNG and military officials that  reveal the fraud. PPA’s argued:

“NJNG has portrayed the pipeline as an essential source of natural gas for JB MDL. However, the attempt to construct the pipeline through the Lakehurst section of the JB was nothing more than an afterthought prompted by a more streamlined approach for approval by the Pinelands Commission. This is evident from email exchanges between a representative of NJNG and representatives from the JB. An email to a JB official from NJNG reads as follows:

Subject: Proposed Pipeline route thru the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

We met with the Pinelands Commission last week for an initial review [of] our pipeline proposal. They agreed with us that the southern route would be the best option but there were still issues with a section along Route 70 where we need to past [sic] through a section of Forest Preservation area that would make the approval process more cumbersome. They suggested that we approach you to see if we could reroute the line through your base and come out the back end of our project. They believe that this new route along with a letter from the base that the presence of the pipeline would be a positive attribute to future base activities could streamline the process. (emphasis added)

The facts show that there is no need for or demand on Joint Base for the NJNG pipeline.

Despite knowing of this NJNG fraud and despite huge public opposition, once again, Pinelands Executive Director Wittenberg went behind the back of the Commission and supported the NJNG pipeline.

The day before last Friday’s Commission meeting, without the knowledge or approval of the Commission (personal communication) or publicly disclosed during her monthly management report,  – just as she deceptively did for the South Jersey Gas pipeline – Wittenberg promoted Gov. Christie’s fossil agenda and wrote BPU in support of the pipeline (Burlington County Times):

In a letter sent Thursday from commission Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg to the BPU, she said that the staff reviewed the discovery documents, transcripts and legal briefs submitted by Chesterfield and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance to the BPU, and that their opinion of the project “remains unchanged.”

“The only new issue raised as part of the BPU process pertained to whether the proposed project was associated with the function of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst,” Wittenberg said in the letter. “The application record for the proposed project aptly supports the joint base’s need for the proposed project. Thus, the application has demonstrated that the proposed gas main is a permitted use in a military and federal installation area.”

We hope that BPU will hear from the public tomorrow – we’ll keep you posted.

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