Any memorandum agreement, if approved by the commission, would ultimately be made with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, as it was when electric lines were earlier passed along the same route.
The pipeline proposal from the South Jersey Gas Co. has provoked public protest and criticism from environmentalists because about 15 miles of the line would run through the Pinelands.
It's also received vigorous support from others who say the line's construction from Maurice Township in Cumberland County to a new power plant in Upper Township in Cape May County would bring more jobs to the area.
"There's been no judgment on the project," Wittenberg said. "We simply want more information from the staff. [The commissioners] want to see what it would look like."
The memorandum will be prepared for the commissioners to review within a month, shared with the public at a special hearing, and later approved or disapproved by the commission, she said.
South Jersey Gas has proposed installation of a 24-inch gas main along 10.2 miles of land within the Pinelands forest area, two miles within a Pinelands rural development area, and 2.7 miles within the Pinelands Village management area, commission spokesman Paul Leakan said.
The pipeline is part of a plan to convert the decades-old, coal-fired electric-generation plant at Beesley Point in Upper Township. "It would significantly reduce emissions," South Jersey Gas spokesman Daniel Lockwood said Friday.
But the pipeline has been seen as a major threat to the Pinelands by the New Jersey Sierra Club. "What happened today is a sellout of the Pinelands and the protection of the most environmentally sensitive and unique areas anywhere in the country," the organization's director, Jeff Tittel, said after Friday's decision to draft a memorandum.
"The Pinelands Commission had not used any independent experts or scientists to see if the pipeline is needed or looked at environmental impacts to the Pinelands," he said. "We are going to fight this as hard as we can because the Pinelands are too important to allow this pipeline to cut through it, causing irreparable harm."