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TRENTON - Equipped with a bullhorn, signs, umbrellas and raincoats, more than 50 protesters marched Monday morning through the rainy streets of the state capital to oppose two pipelines they say threaten forests and homes in New Jersey’s Pinelands.

They shouted “protect the Pines” as they walked from the offices of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection westward to the Trenton War Memorial.

Once there, they climbed the memorial’s steps and, in the shelter of an overhang, met with two assemblymen to discuss projects and programs they say are threatening the future of the evergreen ecosystem.

Many of the protesters said they were worried about the New Jersey Natural Gas Southern Reliability Link, a proposed 30-mile long natural gas pipeline that would run through Burlington County, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Upper Freehold and Plumsted before ending near Colonial Drive and Route 70 in Manchester.

Another pipeline serving South Jersey Gas would connect Atlantic City and Upper Township in Cape May.

Once complete, the Southern Reliability Link would supply 83 communities in Ocean, Monmouth and Burlington counties and benefit more than 1 million people, according to New Jersey Natural Gas.

Lorrie Thier of Chesterfield brought her daughter to the Trenton rally to protest the pipeline, saying she worried that the gas pipeline, in the event of an explosion or a major leak, could harm her community.

“There’s been a lot of issues with just leaking of gas,” Thier said. “There has been some explosions of gas. Even their protocol for cleaning up or taking care of it if an issue occurs is not in the best interest of people who live in and around these pipelines.”

Michael Kinney, a spokesman for New Jersey Natural Gas, said safety was the company’s priority and that the pipeline would be monitored 24 hours a day, seven days per week as well as monthly and annual inspections.

Currently, customers in New Jersey Natural Gas’ southern coverage area are vulnerable to any disruption in service that occurs at the northerly interstate supply, Kinney said.

“This is an important project,” he said. “By building a second pipeline connected to a separate interstate pipeline, we’re strengthening the overall reliability and resiliency of our system.”

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, believed the pipeline would be used to help fuel major growth in proposed communities within Jackson and Manchester, as well as other environmentally sensitive regions of Ocean County. That growth, Tittel said, is damaging the health of Barnegat Bay.

The new developments will generation “an additional withdrawal of ground water that will dry out wetlands and streams” and cause “pollution from sewers and traffic,” Tittel said.

“You could say goodbye to Barnegat Bay,” he said. “That’s where the freshwater for the bay comes from.”

Assemblymen Ron Dancer and Rob Clifton of the 12th Legislative District are sponsoring bills that would force the Board of Public Utilities, which has approved plans for both pipelines, to hear public input from affected residents.

One bill would prohibit placing the pipelines within 100 feet of buildings. Another would increase the number of homeowners who would have to be notified about a pipeline. Right now, about 140 buildings are within the 100 feet of the proposed Southern Reliability Link.

In total, the assemblyman are sponsoring five bills that would change the requirements for natural gas pipelines.

“The people who are most impacted by this are the least informed,” Dancer said.

Jaclyn Rhoads, assistant executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, urged the protesters gathered in Trenton to push for a moratorium on new pipelines and to oppose political interference with the Pinelands Commission, a state agency that has found its leadership replaced by Gov. Chris Christie after some on the commission opposed to the pipelines.

Amanda Oglesby: 732-557-5701; aoglesby@GannettNJ.com

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