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Archive for December, 2016

Park Police Need Tools to Combat ORV Abuse

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016
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In a recent and revealing video, ORV drivers demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the current approach of management in Wharton State Forest. Because of political pressure on the DEP, the dedicated and heroic Park Police are deprived of the tools they need to succeed in their mission of natural resources protection. NJDEP, in their refusal to designate official routes of the State Forest, is placing an impossible burden of policing an unenforceable spaghetti network of unmanaged routes on the understaffed and often under-gunned(in terms of tools and vehicles) Park Police. The State of New Jersey needs to do a much better job in supporting these stewards of our public land. Without the needed tools and personnel, these modern day rangers are being deprived of succeeding in their mission of public lands protection.

In the video below, you will see an organized group of off-road vehicle drivers abusing public roadways, eroding historic sites, damaging forest infrastructure, and creating new “roads” by driving straight into the forest over pristine areas, These individuals went completely unopposed in their day-long tour of destruction and this has been happening far too often on our public lands.

In a second video, a concerned citizen recorded another group of “mudders” in the Great Swamp of Wharton State Forest, also a Natural Heritage Priority Site for globally rare species. The wetlands in this video were protected by the original Motorized Access Plan by Parks and Forestry, but was forced open to motor vehicles by the NJDEP. Park Police simply do not have the equipment to patrol this area and so it has been left to fend for itself. With a new map, unpatrolled habitat like this could be protected from further damage by vehicle barriers and focused monitoring.

In a third unfortunate recording, individuals filmed themselves driving into the Batsto River and other environmentally sensitive areas as well as abusing the forest roads. After reporting this recording to Park Police and NJDEP, we were told that the individuals were given a warning after their vehicles were observed by Park Police covered in mud. Unfortunately, because of the spaghetti network of roads, it is very unlikely they will be caught in the act and suffer a serious fine. A warning will not prevent them from continuing this type of behavior and damage. We were told the video itself would not be sufficient evidence to make a successful prosecution. Clearly, when our legal system is unable to prevail, we need stronger and better management to protect our natural resources.

In a fourth video, individuals calling themselves the “Shutdown Squad X” film themselves abusing our forest infrastructure while consuming alcohol and vandalizing a historic building within the State Forest. When groups of individuals are able to maruade through our public lands for hours on end without consequence, it is a clear sign that the NJDEP has not brought sufficient resources and tools to the issue. We must now advocate to the Pinelands Commission to enact these management tools in order to physically protect habitat and to give our hardworking Park Police a chance to succeed in their mission

Please join us on January 27th at 9:30am and tell the Pinelands Commission that an official map of Forest routes will give our understaffed and under-resourced law enforcement officers a chance to prevail against this abuse.

 

Pinelands Commission

15 Springfield Rd. Pemberton, NJ

08068

Groundhog Day at the Pinelands Commission

Friday, December 9th, 2016
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Today is the 1st monthly meeting of the Pinelands Commission since the Nov. 7th Court decision that sent the SJ Gas Pipeline project back to them – stating that the Commission staff and the Board of Public Utilities had improperly approved the project without taking a full vote of the Commission.

Crowd at the Pinelands Commission in December 2013

IRONICALLY – 3 yrs ago today the Pinelands Commission held a public hearing on the SJ Gas Pipeline project when it came around the first time. Hundreds of people showed up to speak out against the project. The room was too small and many people were stuck in the lobby unable to get in the room.

During 2013-2014 over 20,000 people testified, wrote letters, made public comment and signed petitions opposing this project. Because we all believe in equal and fair enforcement of the rules that protect our land and water and air.

Then in January 2014 the Commission voted on the project and deadlocked 7 to 7 (1 Commissioner had to recuse himself, but that is another story). The South Jersey Gas Pipeline project failed. The Commissioners and the Commission staff clearly stated in many documents that IT VIOLATED THE RULES THAT PROTECT THE PINELANDS.


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So why are we still here?

SJ Gas keeps trying to find a way around Pinelands rules that have existed since 1981. Rules that clearly state infrastructure projects like this are not permitted in the forest area unless “intended to primarily serve the needs of the Pinelands” N.J.A.C. 7:50-5.23. These rules exist in part to prevent the Pinelands from becoming a super highway for gas pipelines and other infrastructure trying to get the coast or to another location. The Pinelands is a fragile, rare ecosystem to be valued and enjoyed – not a transit area.

In 2015 South Jersey Gas resubmitted the same application with “new” information showing that now it “meets the needs of the Pinelands”. This is the same project – we will not be fooled and we won’t be worn down by all the years of work that this project has already consumed.

Today so many people showed up at the Pinelands Commission’s regular monthly meeting that there was no room to park.  Pro-pipeline advocates valtrex packed the room. Pipeline opponents were crowded into the lobby.

How could the Commission not be aware that people would show up?

Why would they not have planned ahead?  It is like Groundhog Day – just like Dec. 9, 2013.

Today the Commission moved into closed session before public comment – and according to the executive director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, everyone who was in the meeting room was asked to leave and more than 100 people were told they can go home and be called if they want to come back.

No matter what the Commission MUST vote on the project, there MUST be a public hearing and they MUST vote to deny the project. It isn’t the job of the Commission to determine energy policy or to support the re-powering of a power plant (that could be underwater in the next 50 years due to sea level rise anyway).

It is very simple. The project violates the rules and must be denied.  Learn more here. Sign up on our email list so we can keep you informed.

UPDATED 12.9.16 at 7pm:

PUBLIC HEARING ANNOUNCED
January 24, 2017 at 9:30 am

The Pinelands Commission will hold a public hearing on January 24, 2017 at 9:30 am at the Ocean Acres Community Center located at 489 Nautilus Drive, Manahawkin, New Jersey 08050.  Learn more on their webpage.

We are very disappointed that they are not holding the meeting in the evening.  It is completely unfair to people who work during the day or would need to find child care.  They know how many people are opposed to this project.

For people who can’t attend the public hearing you will be able to submit comments by mail or email.

Comments may be sent via the following:

Mail:   New Jersey Pinelands Commission
P.O. Box 359
New Lisbon, New Jersey 08064

Email:  info@njpines.state.nj.us

You can also attend the next regular Pinelands Commission meeting on January 13, 2017 at 9:30 a.m.  The Pinelands Commission Offices are located at 15 Springfield Road in Pemberton Township NJ.

Make sure you are on our email list so we can keep you informed in a timely fashion.

You can find information on the Pinelands Commission website about monthly meetings (including agendas) and public hearings. You can also sign up on their email list so you are notified of upcoming events. Here is their website.

ORV Riders Plot to Destroy Pristine Ponds while Commission Fails to Act

Monday, December 5th, 2016
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2approved-michael-virilli_pond

The PPA was recently alerted to a Facebook post by individuals plotting to cut into and destroy pristine Pinelands ponds with off-road vehicles. We confirmed the authenticity of the post and alerted the appropriate authorities. Notably, the organizer of this activity had come to a recent Pinelands Commission meeting claiming to be a responsible off-roader and asked the Commission not to take any action to manage off-road vehicles in Wharton State Forest. In a Facebook post a month after the Commission meeting, this individual discussed how “with just a hare of trimming I could park a deuce in there”, referring to the pristine pond pictured in the post.  A “deuce” is a surplus military vehicle that has been used by some off-roaders to cause immense damage to habitat, especially in Wharton State Forest.

 

See the video clip below for a demonstration what is in store for this pond if the Commission fails to act. This was a pristine wetland in Wharton State Forest.

Here is the statement to the Pinelands Commission given by the same ORV driver who is plotting to destroy this pristine pond.

“I’ve got a bunch of friends like myself who are avid responsible off-roaders, ATV riders, etc a lot of us have machines sitting at home with flat tires and dead batteries because they haven’t been ridden since before spring time. We get out there just to have a little fun. I stay on fire roads, I’m not cutting trails, driving through swamps, but no one wants to go out because they’re afraid of getting fined”

It appears that this individual was deliberately trying to mislead the Commissioners by giving them a false impression of his own activities and of the DEP’s current response to the continuing reign of destruction. In fact, the state Park Police do not have anywhere near the resources that would be needed to monitor all the places vehicles are harming in Wharton State Forest, much less the rest of the Pinelands’ public lands.  They cannot do it alone.  One thing they need is an official designation of which sand paths are real roads, where it is lawful to drive, and which are unlawful.  Truly responsible drivers and the Park Police need a clearly defined map to guide visitors, enforcement and the creation of signs and barriers to protect the most sensitive sites from damage. Without these measures, some individuals will continue to wreak havoc on critically important habitat in the Pinelands National Reserve and Wharton State Forest. Inaction is not an option and we need to let the Commissioners know the importance of this issue.

We are going to solve this problem, but we need your help. Some of those responsible for this damage are coming to these meetings in an effort to thwart protections and we need you there to speak up for wildlife and habitat that can’t speak for itself.

Come to the Pinelands Commission on December 9th at 9:30am and demand a map to protect critical habitat from off-road vehicles.  

Pinelands Commission Address: 15 Springfield Rd # C, Pemberton, NJ 08068

 

 

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