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.