FLEMINGTON, NJ – Hunterdon Freeholders voted unanimously on Tuesday to call for an investigation into what Freeholder John Lanza called “significant and troubling” potential conflicts of interest between Gov. Phil Murphy’s Administration and a company that is part owner of the proposed PennEast pipeline.
The vote was in support of a letter to state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal signed by more than 60 local homeowners who are in the path of the proposed pipeline.
“The homeowners ... are asking legitimate questions,” Lanza said. The potential conflicts of interest are between New Jersey Resources (NJR), a part owner of the pipeline and the governor’s administration, he said, which has to approve two, “difficult to obtain clean water permits.”
The homeowners’ letter points out that the NJR Chief Executive Officer Laurence Downes is Chairman of the Murphy’s Economic Development Authority. Downes is also Chairman of the Drumthwacket committee that is raising funds for the renovation of the Governor’s Mansion, the letter states, and he “has made substantial political contributions” to state lawmakers.
The letter says that while it does not allege “favorable treatment has occurred,” it says, “the appearance of this possible conflict is glaring and disturbing.”
NJR is a 20 percent owner of the pipeline. The letter also asserts that the company’s financial reports show the pipeline will affect the company’s future growth and near-term financial performance, and that Downes’ executive compensation and stock options can be favorably affected by the completion of the pipeline.
“There is a lot of money on the table,” Lanza said, and the Attorney General should seek answers to the issues raised by the homeowners.
Lanza noted that Hunterdon County holds easements on many of the affected farmland properties, “Making the county a directly affected landowner as well.”