"What they're doing is they're selling out the Pinelands for cash. I mean this is immoral and it's illegal," Jeff Tittle of the Sierra Club said.
The proposed deal calls for South Jersey Gas to pay the Pinelands Commission $8 million to build a 22-mile natural gas pipeline through the Pinelands.
The 24-inch pipeline would stretch from Maurice River Township to the old BL England coal plant in Beesley Point, Upper Township.
The deal is necessary because commission rules ban the building of new transmission lines in sensitive forest areas.
"We think there's a high likelihood there will be ecological damage because this pipeline has to go under numerous wetlands. With this deal they would be basically selling a waiver for money," Carleton Montgomery of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance said.
Pinelands Commission Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg says most of the $8 million will be used to buy land around the pipeline to prevent other development and that the pipeline will not be a threat to the environment.
"People are very anxious about it, I understand that. They hear that we're putting a pipeline through the middle of the Pinelands forest area. This project meets all the environmental standards because the pipe is actually going under a road, so it's going in a previously disturbed area," Wittenberg said.
Critics also have concerns about possible explosions or forest fires near the pipeline. Others think retooling the coal plant that sits on the Egg Harbor River is a good idea.
"I think it's a great idea. I think when you look at the power plant and the way it's currently running and the coal and the emissions and that kind of stuff, I think that natural gas is a great thing," resident Pat Dougherty said.
A public hearing on the deal is set for December 9th in Galloway Township. The Pinelands Commission could vote on the pipeline issue as early as January.