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Pinelands Preservation Alliance Releases Annual State of the Pinelands Report

By | December 22nd, 2014

On December 15, 2014 the Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA) released its 2014 State of the Pinelands Report.  This past year has shown just how crucially the Pinelands depends on the support and will of two key players: the state Pinelands Commission and the governor of the day.  We discuss the South Jersey Gas pipeline issue at length in this year’s State of the Pinelands Report because it points out how Pinelands protections were almost subverted for a major development project and remain very much at risk.

State of the Pinelands Report_2014 cover imageThe report focuses on the state of Pinelands preservation and rates how specific actions of government agencies have either helped or harmed the Pinelands during the past twelve months. The report rates the actions of government officials and agencies that include the governor, Pinelands Commission, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), New Jersey State Legislature, local government, and other governmental agencies. Since the fate of the Pinelands rests primarily with decisions by government, the public needs a way to hold these agencies accountable for their performance through an annual report.

PPA believes there is real cause for concern in the actions of government agencies responsible for safeguarding the Pinelands.

South Jersey Gas Pipeline Still an Issue

The most well-know threat to the integrity of the Pinelands protection rules over the past year is the South Jersey Gas pipeline issue.  The good news was that in January 2014 the Pinelands Commission did not approve the special deal that was presented to authorize the pipeline in direct violation of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP).  But the Commission’s vote was 7-7 — evenly split.  “That is cause for profound concern.  This should have been an easy decision since the CMP is not ambiguous in barring this kind of new infrastructure in the Pinelands Forest Area,” states Carleton Montgomery, PPA’s executive director, in his introduction to the report.

And the threat still lingers.  South Jersey Gas has stated in multiple forums that it intends to get the pipeline built, despite the Commission’s decision.  Shortly after the 7-7 vote the governor submitted two nominations to replace sitting members of the Pinelands Commission who had voted “no” to the deal.

Stacking the Deck on the Commission

“These nominations, which are still pending before the state Senate for confirmation, are a transparent effort to pack the Pinelands Commission with reliable ‘yes’ votes for a pipeline deal that directly violates the protections of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan,” Montgomery explains.  “It is up to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to stop this assault on the Pinelands and good government.”

“These nominations are an effort to pack the Pinelands Commission with reliable ‘yes’ votes for a pipeline deal that directly violates the protections of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan.” — Carleton Montgomery, PPA

Despite a number of environmental setbacks, some good initiatives and outcomes came about this past year. The annual Pinelands Short Course sponsored by the Commission continues to grow in popularity. Since its inception the Short Course has provided a wonderful opportunity for people to learn more about unique natural, historic, and cultural aspects of the Pine Barrens. The Short Course is something that the Commission takes great pride in, and deservedly so.

The Commission also took action to prevent electronic billboard signs from being placed in the more environmentally sensitive areas of the Pinelands when it required Monroe Township in Gloucester County to change the ordinance that would have allowed their placement in these areas.

Crackdown on Illegal Dumping

This past year the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection launched a crackdown on illegal dumping with the support of the State Police and Attorney General’s office.  According the DEP this program has resulted in 28 enforcement actions and more than $450,000 worth of pending fines.  Strategically deployed motion detector cameras have been set up in select parks and wildlife management areas to help catch violators.  The DEP manages over 813,000 acres in the state of New Jersey with the largest tracts of lands being in the Pinelands.

Funding for Open Space

This year’s report also recognizes the great work of the state legislature to pass a measure allowing New Jersey residents to vote on funding for preserving parks, open space, historic sites, farmland and flood-prone areas.  The measure passed overwhelmingly on November 4, 2014.  This was the 14th open space ballot question approved by New Jersey voters since the 1961.

But in addition to the issues surrounding the South Jersey Gas pipeline the report notes some important setbacks by municipalities and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The townships of Monroe, Stafford and Manchester continued to take actions to develop land that was previously preserved as open space for their residents.  In each case the proposed development will impact habitat for plants and animals and reduce the amount of useable open space for its residents.  These issues will only get more complicated as New Jersey becomes more populated.

The DEP has failed to release the updated Statewide Water Supply Plan.  The “current” plan is 18 years old despite the fact that five year updates are required by law.  The purpose of the Plan is to improve water supply capacity, investigate the status of major aquifers and plan for future water supply needs.  The time has long come and gone for this plan to be released.

MOA’s Weakening the CMP

One of the fundamental weaknesses that PPA identifies is in the way that the Pinelands Commission seems now to view is own regulations. Over the past several years, there has been a slow shift in philosophy from applying the Pinelands CMP as rules with regulatory teeth, to seeing the CMP as guidelines only, to be negotiated around in deference to developers and ratable-chasing local governments.

This disrespect for its own rules can be seen in the Pinelands Commission’s Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) process that it increasingly uses to allow private developers, municipal and county governments to avoid basic Pinelands environmental protections in order to promote profit-driven new development that does not meet Pinelands rules. This is the waiver method which the Pinelands Commission staff wants the Commissioners to use in approving the natural gas pipeline through the Pinelands Forest Area.

“This year’s report once again points out how the MOA process can be used for the wrong reasons and, in doing so, undermine respect for the Pinelands Commission and harm natural resources,” stated Richard Bizub, Director for Water Programs for PPA.

The past few years have cemented PPA’s conviction that if the Pinelands is going to survive as a unique place for future generations, it is going to require more than government regulations and PPA watching over the Pinelands Commission.

“The long-term survival of the Pinelands is going to take a citizenry committed to holding our elected and appointed officials’ feet to the fire. And perhaps most of all, it is going to require a new generation of citizen activists to accomplish this important task,” stated Bizub.

PPA hopes this eighth annual State of the Pinelands report will both inform and provoke, all with the good intentions of protecting the Pinelands for current and future generations.

The complete report is available and can be faxed or emailed upon request.  For more information please contact PPA at 609-859-8860.

A good start to 2013

By | February 14th, 2013

by Jaclyn Rhoads, Director for Conservation Policy

A few may recall, but most likely don’t remember that the passage of state-wide legislation requiring the tagging and registration of off-road vehicles in 2009 contained a last minute provision that prevented the law from being implemented until the state designated one park for ORV riding.

Well, the day has come after four years since passage of the legislation.  The opening of the first state-owned off-road vehicle facility in January was a pleasant surprise to environmentalists and ORV enthusiasts alike.

All ORV owners are required to register and tag their vehicles.  The Motor Vehicle Commission will institute the new regulations under the law starting April 1st and charge owners $50 for the registration with an additional $10 going into an ORV fund for new parks.

More information to follow in our May newsletter, but for now enjoy the good news and thanks to all for your help in this significant campaign to establish greater protections for our public lands and private property from off-road vehicle damage.

Click here for information about the new ORV park in Woodbine.

Where are our Legislative Environmental Champions?

By | July 5th, 2012

by Jaclyn Rhoads, Director for Conservation Policy

Every year in June, legislators scramble to get their bills finished before summer recess.  Deals are made, and usually the environment gets sacrificed.  Some years are worse than others, and 2012 will rank high on the list for environmental deregulation.

The Permit Extension Act of 2012 (S743/A1338) passed easily.  Nearly every legislator voted for this act, which claims to create new jobs but in reality only hands builders more time to delay projects, wait for values to rise and make more money while escaping compliance with any environmental protection adopted since 2007.  If the legislature truly wanted to generate jobs, then it should have required permit holders to start building within the next three years to get its environmental exemptions.  The Act doesn’t provide any incentives for moving forward on projects – only for delaying further.  Worse in many ways, environmentally sensitive areas like the Pinelands, Highlands and Barnegat Bay are now included, allowing developers to skirt around environmental protections even in these areas that have passed within the past six years.

If that isn’t bad enough, the resolution to override DEP’s new “Waiver Rule” was passed by the Assembly but held from a Senate vote by the Senate President, south Jersey’s own Stephen Sweeney.  Were deals made with the Governor for some goodies?  We will never know but the signs are all there, since the resolution enjoyed wide support among Democratic lawmakers.  The resolution, SCR59, would have stopped the Waiver Rule from going into effect, now scheduled for August 1st.  DEP adopted the Waiver Rule to authorize widespread, discretionary waivers of environmental protections for the benefit of developers and polluters who don’t want to follow the law.

Not only have the legislature turned their back on environmental protections, but the state will run out of funds for open space, historic and farmland preservation this year.  The Governor had promised to protect Barnegat Bay and fund open space preservation, but both the Governor and the legislature have apparently opted to put these goals off for another day.

There are a few environmental champions in the legislator, but unfortunately, so many are turning their backs on important bills.  Learn how your Assemblyperson and Senator voted for these bills, and call them with your concerns.

(Click on this link – http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/ and enter bill number on the right side of the page under Bill Search, click on the bill and at the bottom of the page select roll call to view the legislators vote.)

DEP Gives Wal-Mart a “Way Around” Environmental Protections in the Pinelands

By | May 15th, 2012

by Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director

Last week, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) granted a permit for construction of a Wal-Mart super-store in the Pinelands National Reserve in Ocean County, even though DEP had twice denied this development for violating regulations that are supposed to protect rare species, water quality and natural habitats.

After the second denial, the Asbury Park Press quoted newly-installed governor Christie as saying “There may be a way around it.  The DEP is working on it.”

So it was no surprise when DEP announced a proposed “settlement” to approve the same development plan that DEP had previously denied.  The agency’s rationale was that the developer will pay for compensatory habitat enhancements on several other, disconnected and distant pieces of land.  Before adopting such a settlement, DEP has to open it up for public comment.  So PPA and other groups submitted extensive comments showing the settlement was both legally and scientifically wrong.

There are two more important facts to consider about this deal with Wal-Mart:

First, DEP is no longer calling it a “settlement” of litigation.  Now they’re just issuing a permit, as if there was nothing unusual about the case.  Calling the deal a “settlement” was actually a candid admission that the plan couldn’t be approved under the Department’s regulations.  But after taking public comment, DEP may have realized the law doesn’t allow them to violate their rules just by calling it the approval a “settlement.”  When government tries to find “a way around” its rules, it always gets itself twisted up in such contradictions.

Second, we now know more about what kind of company Wal-Mart has become.  While sending millions of dollars to national environmental groups, it seems to have been sending even more millions in bribes to government officials across Mexico to buy permits in violation of environmental and other development rules.

In a detailed expose, the New York Times has revealed that Wal-Mart carried out, then covered up, a multi-million dollar campaign of bribing officials throughout Mexico to obtain development permits.  When a Wal-Mart lawyer got wind of the bribes and started to investigate, top management transferred the investigation to the very company official in Mexico who was deeply involved in directing the bribery campaign.  There it died until the Times started its investigation.

According to the Times report, the bribery campaign and subsequent cover-up were approved at the highest level of the company, including top managers in the U.S.  Wal-Mart is not denying the allegations, which are now being investigated by the Justice Department.  Bribing foreign officials directly violates American law, as well as foreign laws.  It’s also terrible for the economy and welfare of foreign countries, as each bribe begets more bribery and more artificial, bureaucratic rules on which more corrupt officials can hang their demands for cash.

Is it appropriate or seemly for our State to give a special deal to a company that has used bribery to get land use permits in blatant violation of American and foreign law, then tried to bury the evidence?  Is this the kind of company to which our governor and DEP Commissioner should give special dispensations on behalf of the people of New Jersey?

The bribery scandal should be the straw that breaks the camel’s back on this bad deal in the Pinelands.  Governor Christie should simply withdraw the permit and hold Wal-Mart to the letter of the law if it wants to build a store in the Pines, or anywhere else in New Jersey.

For more details, including the prior DEP permit denial, the proposed “settlement,” and PPA’s and other groups’ objections to the “settlement,” please go to the Pinelands Preservation Alliance web site at www.pinelandsalliance.org/protection/work/currentissues/development/walmarttomsrivermanchester

PPA LEEDing By Example

By | May 10th, 2012

by Jaclyn Rhoads, Director for Conservation Policy

PPA is helping to lead the charge on green buildings by going for LEED certification!  The US Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization committed to advancing green buildings in the market, pioneered a standardized system for certifying green buildings.  This certification is called LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

From www.USGBC.org , “The LEED® green building program is a voluntary, consensus-based global rating system for buildings, homes and communities that are designed, constructed, maintained and operated for improved environmental and human health performance. LEED addresses all building types emphasizing state-of-the- art strategies in: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials and resources selection, locations & linkages, awareness & education, indoor environmental quality, innovation & education and regional priorities.”  The LEED programs are designed for new buildings, existing buildings and operations, interior design, core and shell, schools, retail, healthcare, and neighborhood development.

PPA has registered for the LEED existing buildings and operations certification.  With a grant from Gardinier Foundation, we have completed an energy audit of our facilities and a LEED assessment conducted by DeFeo Associates to determine what work we need to do to meet the certification requirements.

In the next coming months, the Bishop Farmstead offices will be upgraded with a new high efficiency boiler, central air-conditioning units, hot water heater, energy star appliances, and LED lights.  Our goal is to implement all of the recommendations from our energy audit, reduce our water use, create operation policies that reduce our natural resource use, create a purchasing policy to promote local and organic products, and to install at some point a renewable energy source on-site.

All of this work is geared toward educating the public about how important our resource use is to saving the Pinelands.  Our water use, energy use, and resource use has a direct impact on the Pinelands region, which PPA and our members work so hard to protect.

PPA will continue to provide updates on our blog and website and have special tours of our facility for the public to learn more about these projects and how to implement them in your home. In the meantime, please check out our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint since moving to the Bishop Farmstead.

 

Governor Gets Highlands Leader Fired

By | March 16th, 2012

by Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director

Last night, Governor Christie got Eileen Swan, executive director of the NJ Highlands Council, fired by a 9-5 majority of the Council.  Deputy Director Tom Borden immediately resigned his position, making clear he could not work for a Council that would take such an action.

The governor’s and Council’s action is a serious attack on regional planning in New Jersey.

No one claimed Ms. Swan was fired for poor job performance, because on any reading she has done an extraordinary job.  Under her leadership, the Council adopted the Regional Master Plan and has already brought almost half of Highlands towns into conformity with the Plan – with more on the verge of conformance.  Swan won the praise of numerous local officials who testified last night to the high quality of her work.  Of course, it was all in vain, because the decision had been made well beforehand.

The governor won’t publicly take responsibility for this action – his office declines to comment.  But the fact that he packed the Council and then demanded the firing is undisputed.

One member of the Council, Bergen County surrogate Michael Dressler, damned the action as “the most gutless move in 37 years of politics.”

The Highlands Council and the Pinelands Commission are, by law, independent agencies that are not supposed to be run by the governor or the legislature.  Gubernatorial power-plays like last night in the Highlands represent a fundamental attack on the integrity, bi-partisanship, and stability of these planning agencies.

Last night’s action struck a serious blow against good government, environmental protection and smart growth.  I only hope this outrage against the Highlands galvanizes support for the Highlands and the Pinelands programs!

Here are links to some relevant articles:

N.J. Highlands Council votes to oust director at emotional session.  Star Ledger.  http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/03/nj_highlands_council_votes_to_1.htmlhttp://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/03/nj_highlands_council_votes_to_1.html

Highlands director fired in 9-5 vote.  Daily Record.   http://www.dailyrecord.com/article/20120315/NJNEWS/303150022/Highlands-chief-fired-9-5-vote-opponents-blame-Christie

N.J. Highlands Council fires executive director.  Northjersey.com.  http://www.northjersey.com/news/bergen/031512_NJ_Highlands_Council_fires_executive_director.html

The Thursday night massacre.  http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/12/0316/0117/

Public Opinion Poll Has Lessons for Pinelands Advocates

By | October 19th, 2011

by Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director

As part of a project with New Jersey Future, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and Smart Growth America, PPA commissioned an opinion poll about smart growth issues by the Monmouth Polling Institute.  So far as we can tell, this was the first public opinion polling on the Pinelands protection program.  The poll was funded by the William Penn Foundation.

The poll gave some us some important results about the Pinelands:

  • A majority of 55% report knowing “a great deal” or “some” about the Pinelands.
  • Overwhelming numbers identify protecting clean water supply (91%) as very important, and strong majorities identify protecting farmland and open space (62%) and preserving the state’s remaining forests (67%) as very important.
  • Two-thirds (66%) of those who have an opinion support the Pinelands protection program.
  • Support for the Pinelands is completely bipartisan.

One result that presents more of a challenge for us is that majorities express support both for local government control of land use decisions and for regional and statewide management of development.

I think these results show it is possible to win broad, statewide recognition and support for initiatives like the Pinelands.  It also shows that in New Jersey, it is possible to keep regional planning a bi-partisan cause even in today’s exceptionally divisive political culture

I also think the poll helps point to a critical need in public education.  While 91% say clean water is very important, a lower 67% also say protecting remaining forests is very important.  That means there is a good chunk of the public that does not yet see the critical connection between protecting water and preserving the forests which clean and store this water.  Those who love the Pinelands need to help everyone understand that protecting clean water and protecting forests are just two sides of the same coin – you can’t have either one without the other.

The poll has lots of questions about smart growth issues beyond the Pinelands.  Here is a link to the full report on the poll by the Monmouth Polling Institute.

Hope and Worry As Governor Nominates Six for the Pinelands Commission

By | May 4th, 2011

by Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director

Governor Christie has submitted six nominations for the Pinelands Commission to the state Senate, which must confirm the nominations before they become effective.  The nominees are:

Candace McKee Ashmun of Bedminster, who has served on the commission since its creation in 1979 and is the only sitting Commissioner to be renominated.

De Arcy Rohan Green, chair of the Bay Head Environmental Commission.

Mark S. Lohbauer of Pennsauken, a consultant on municipal redevelopment with the JGSC Group of Merchantville and a former Freeholder in Camden County.

Stephen V. Lee, III, a cranberry grower from Chatsworth who previously served on the Commission for many years before being replaced by governor Corzine.

Richard H. Prickett, a retired high school science teacher and member of the Pemberton Township Council.

Gary Quinn, mayor of Lacey Township and a self-described developer of residential and commercial properties.

(The seventh gubernatorial position on the Commissioner is occupied by Robert Jackson of Cape May County, whose term does not expire until 2012.)

While I am grateful that the governor has acted – the Commission has been hobbled by vacancies for years – and most of the nominations are good choices, I have some serious concerns:

1.      All the nominees are Republicans, indicating that the governor rejects the idea that the Pinelands is a bi-partisan effort.  The greatest strength of the Pinelands Commission is its bi-partisan culture.  Past governors have usually nominated more people of their own party, but have also nominated some people from the other party, and they have resisted efforts to the turn the Pinelands into a partisan political issue.

2.      The governor has not said which member of the Commission he will select as its Chair.  This is an important position, and it is critical he choose a conservation-minded individual with the skills to manage its meetings, build consensus, and keep the Commission on course.

3.      Ed Lloyd, a prominent environmental attorney who has served on the Commission for several years, was not renominated – perhaps because he is not a registered Republican or perhaps for some other reason.  The loss of his experience and expertise is a real blow to the Pinelands.

4.      Through his many years on the Commission, Steve Lee was almost always an adversary of PPA and an almost virulent critic of the Pinelands Commission’s outstanding science program.  He also never seemed to accept that voting on matters that would benefit or harm his business constituted a conflict of interest.  We often found ourselves questioning his genuine commitment to the fundamental environmental mission of the Pinelands program.  We hope that if confirmed he will come onto the Commission this time around with a new spirit of putting conservation first and business interests second in his work on the Commission.

5.      We do not know Gary Quinn, mayor of Lacey Township, but I am concerned that he does not seem to have any record of environmental interests.  On the internet, one can find him defending the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant (which, despite its record of radioactive leaks into ground water and a cooling system that wreaks significant destruction of life in Barnegat Bay, does enable Lacey to have very low property taxes and provides good jobs to the area).

Whenever new people are appointed to the Pinelands Commission, we greet their arrival with hope and worry, since the Commission controls the course of development and conservation across the Pinelands.  These emotions are particularly intense now because the governor is nominating five brand new people – one-third of the Commission’s members – in one go.

For a variety of reasons, the Pinelands Commission has lost the initiative in Pinelands protection.   It has relegated itself to a reactive role in which it has repeatedly waived environmental protections for the benefit of the development schemes of ambitious builders and ratable-chasing municipal leaders.  It has shelved good smart-growth policy initiatives to focus on making ad hoc deals and loosening environmental protections.

PPA hopes the new Commissioners will help the rest of the Commission and its new Executive Director, Nancy Wittenberg, to take back the initiative and set a new, conservation-focused course.

Gov. Releases Barnegat Bay Plan – Some Good Things, Lots of Unanswered Questions

By | December 17th, 2010

by Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director

Governor Christie has released his long-awaited plan to restore Barnegat Bay.  Click here for the Plan and here for the press release.

The key things causing Barnegat Bay’s ecological decline are (a) excessive nutrients (particularly nitrogen) flowing into the Bay from human activities in the watershed and beyond, and (b) the cooling system of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, which sucks in many billions of gallons of water, heats it, treats it with deadly chemicals, then releases it back into the Bay.  The Governor’s Plan speaks to both these issues.  It represents a start in the right direction, but leaves the key issues for future decisions and actions that may never come about. Read the rest of this entry »

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: Another Bad Deal for the Environment

By | November 24th, 2010

by Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director

You may have heard about the controversy over building a solar power facility on the former Stafford Township landfill.  Over the past week, the Commissioner of Environmental Protection, the Pinelands Commission, and finally a body called the State House Commission have all signed off on a no-bid deal the township made with Walters Group, the developer of the Stafford Park and many other developments in the Stafford area.  Walters gets a 30-year lease on the land to build and operate the solar facility – for a profit – in exchange for paying the township an amount of money which the township says should amount to something like $75-150,000 a year in lease payments.

All along, the township advocated for diversion without compensation.  It did not want to provide a single acre of replacement parkland.  It got its way.

Solar power is good, right?  It is, of course.  The problem is that this land had been lawfully deed-restricted “in perpetuity” as conservation open space.  Just as with homes – which are even more essential to us than solar energy facilities – we need them, but not everywhere. Read the rest of this entry »