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Pinelands Commission votes to approve controversial pipeline

A big crowd has gathered as the New Jersey Pinelands Commission is set to vote on whether to approve a controversial pipeline project.

The New Jersey Pinelands Commission has voted to approve a controversial pipeline project.

The 15-member board approved the pipeline by an 8-6 vote, which drew immediate chants of "see you in court" from opponents of the South Jersey Gas project. One member abstained from voting.

Hundreds of people had gathered for the meeting at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Route 70 in Cherry Hill to accommodate the crowd.

A majority of eight votes had been needed to approve South Jersey Gas' application to build a 22-mile-long gas pipeline through the protected Pinelands forest.

One member – Frank Hays who was the appointee of the U.S. Secretary of Interior and only joined the commission last month – abstained.

After the vote was announced many in the crowd shouted, "Shame, shame, shame on you."

The vote was expected to be close. A motion to table the vote was rejected 9-6, which also prompted loud chanting by the hundreds of pipeline opponents in the nearly full ballroom.

Groups both in support of and opposed to the pipeline project showed up to Friday's meeting.

Former chairman Mark Lohbauer, who was ousted last year, urged his fellow commissioners to vote against the project, arguing that the charter was designed to prevent such utilities from crossing forest areas if they did not serve the needs of the Pinelands itself. He said an approval would "lower the bar" for all future projects.

After Lohbauer spoke, members of the audience shouted "do the right thing" and sang "This Land is Your Land."

In 2014, the commission rejected a proposal for a nearly identical project.

A public comment session last month drew a passionate crowd of about 250 people. At that session, state police escorted out a piepline opponent who shouted expletives; a small police presence was also visible at Friday's meeting.

Advocates for the pipeline contend that it will create and save jobs and keep a source of tax revenue in place. Opponents argue that such infrastructure is barred in a stretch of protected forest in Cumberland County through which the pipeline would pass.

Follow reporter @dorillyinq and columnist @Inqkriordan for more updates.