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10th Anniversary State of the Pinelands Report

Thursday, February 16th, 2017
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We issued our first State of the Pinelands report in 2007. Reviewing this decade of reports, it becomes clear that many important policy problems have continued throughout these years without meaningful action by the Pinelands Commission, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and other responsible agencies. In contrast, during this period we have seen several major developments with enormous long-term impacts advance quickly, with great determination shown by the Pinelands Commission, DEP and the governor’s office to get them approved despite big legal and environmental problems. Government knows how to act when key players choose to do so. Unfortunately, we have not seen that kind of decisive action on the following fundamental challenges to the Pinelands.

Stalled Policy Initiatives

Statewide Water Supply Master Plan – The DEP last released a statewide Water Supply Master Plan in 1996. DEP officials promised to release an updated plan in 2002, 2005, and several times since – but it is still missing in action, apparently moldering in the governor’s office. This planning document is important, because it tells the public, water purveyors and government agencies at all levels whether the water supply in each part of the state is secure, is in trouble, or may get into trouble if trends continue. Studies by the US Geological Service and others show that the Kirkwood-Cohansey and Atlantic City 800-Foots Sands – South Jersey’s principal water supplies – are being over-pumped in many areas. In 2016, DEP put every county in the state except for Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland under a drought watch for the fall of 2016. The events of this year signal an immediate need to release the Water Supply Master Plan and apply its findings to protecting our water supplies. Yet the public continues to wait.

Water Allocation Rules – For the last several years, the Pinelands Commission and DEP have recognized the need to reform their standards governing increased pumping of water from the Kirkwood-Cohansey and related aquifers. In addition to studies showing the aquifers are threatened with over-pumping, the multi-million dollar Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer Study, begun in 2001 and finally completed in 2012, showed how lowering the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer harms ecosystems that depend upon it. The agencies have discussed detailed proposals, but have taken no action whatsoever to reform their water allocation rules.

Pinelands Protections for Water Quality – A clean water supply is essential to residential and ecological communities, but Pinelands waters are contaminated in many areas. In 2006, the Pinelands Commission released a report, White Paper on Preserving Ambient Water Quality – Policy Implications of Pinelands Commission Research Projects, which recognized the threat of “non-point source” contamination that comes with all forms of development. The report gave examples of ways the Commission can reduce water quality impacts from development through regulatory changes and incentives. The Commission has never seriously debated, much less acted on those recommendations.

Rapid Speed Development Projects

Meanwhile, here are three examples of major development projects that violate the CMP but have been pushed hard by the Pinelands Commission and/or its staff, DEP and, in some cases, the governor’s office – showing these agencies can act decisively when they choose. All of these matters are still unresolved, but only because PPA, citizens and allied advocacy groups have filed successful legal challenges.

Stafford Business Park – This development project was presented as a compromise to protect water quality in exchange for houses. In reality it set new precedents for developing known rare species habitats by attempting to relocate threatened and endangered plants and wildlife from their established habitats, and using the public memorandum of agreement process to waive and manipulate Pinelands rules in order to foster very large private development. The developer’s proposal to cap a landfill and move protected species in exchange for the construction of over 500 housing units and a big shopping center was introduced in late 2004 and approved in July 2006. It was a short turn around for a waiver of key environmental protections to accommodate a massive for-profit development project on what had been public land in Stafford Township.

South Jersey Gas and New Jersey Natural Gas – These natural gas transmission lines are proposed to cut through the southern and northern parts of the Pinelands in the Forest Area and Preservation Area – management areas that can only allow large infrastructure projects that serve existing needs within those areas. Both these pipelines fail that standard, and both are entirely unnecessary. With pressure from the state’s most powerful Republican and Democratic politicians and the help of the Pinelands Commission’s executive director, both projects were moved rapidly through the Commission process. They have encountered unexpected problems when the full Commission declined to approve the South Jersey Gas project, and, after the government tried to simply circumvent Commission review, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court ruled those efforts to be unlawful. At this writing, the South Jersey Gas pipeline will likely come up for a vote before the Pinelands Commission on February 24th and the New Jersey Natural Gas pipeline is not far behind.

Wal-Mart in Toms River – This Wal-Mart Superstore proposal to cram a huge store and shopping center onto a parcel that is too small and has threatened and endangered species is in the coastal portion of the Pinelands, where DEP has the primary permitting powers. DEP initially denied the application for all the right reasons, and then simply reversed itself when a new governor came into office. Since then the DEP has pressed to approve the development despite repeated legal setbacks, including an adverse Appellate Court ruling, and regulatory violations.

This overview of the past 10 years sheds light on how quickly government officials can act to approve projects that serve special interests instead of supporting projects and policy measures that improve our environment and the well-being of citizens in the state.

Click on the link to read the entire report. This report was mailed to current members of the Pinelands Presevation Alliance in February 2017.

Original Framers of Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan Oppose SJ Gas Pipeline

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017
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Photograph by Albert Horner

Three original framers of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan have written letters to the Commission calling on it to reject the South Jersey Gas pipeline because the route clearly violates the terms and the goals of the CMP’s protections for the Pinelands Forest Area.  Terrence Moore was the founding Executive Director of the Commission, where he served for 20 years in drafting and implementing the CMP.  John Stokes was the founding director of planning at the Commission, and later served as Executive Director.  Over 30 years he was a central figure in designing and enforcing the CMP.  Robert McIntosh worked for the National Park Service on the creation of the Pinelands protection program and represented the Secretary of the Interior on the Pinelands Commission for many years and across a range of Democratic and Republican Administrations in Washington, DC.  These three men bring unequaled experience and expertise in the workings and meaning of the Pinelands regulations.

Each of these individuals understand the purposes and meaning of the specific CMP regulations which South Jersey Gas is trying to circumvent in order to build a very high-capacity gas transmission pipeline across the Pinelands Forest Area.  The CMP prohibits infrastructure like the proposed pipeline from being built in the Forest Area unless it is needed to serve those already inside the Pinelands.  These letters explain in detail why the pipeline would not “primarily serve only the needs of the Pinelands” within the meaning of the CMP, as required of any such pipeline before it can be built within the Forest Area, and why approving the project would set an extremely damaging precedent for future development of the Forest Area.

The fact that these founders of the Pinelands program have never before submitted comments to the Commission on a pending development application since retiring from their official positions, but have all done so now, shows how critical this issue is to the integrity and success of the Pinelands protection program.  Read the letters here:

Letter from John Stokes

Letter from Robert McIntosh

Letter from Terrence Moore

Learn more about the public meeting to be held Tuesday, January 24th at 9:30 am and submit comments on this project.  Click here.

Protecting Wharton State Forest – A New Plan Takes Shape

Monday, August 24th, 2015
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Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 3.02.32 PMThe New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced the launch of a Motorized Access Plan (MAP) for the state’s largest tract of land, Wharton State Forest (125,000 acres). This plan consists of a map that delineates close to 225 miles of sand and unimproved roads intended for motor vehicle use while leaving other access areas for emergency vehicles, wildlife, walking and other low-impact recreation. It also includes a brochure that highlights the ecology of Wharton State Forest. The driving map and brochure will be available later this summer at Atsion Recreation Area and historic Batsto Village. Download the driving map 

I’d like to explain why the Pinelands Preservation Alliance supports the Motorized Access Plan (MAP), with the understanding that there is plenty of room for honest disagreement about whether this policy is the best response to the problems Wharton faces.

PPA’s Long-held Position: Stop the Destruction

For years, PPA has called for a set of actions to address what we see as a real crisis in the State Forest: the destruction being caused by illegal and irresponsible “mudding” and ATV use and dumping. One of those actions is the closing of some sand roads so the State Forest can focus its very limited resources on maintaining fewer roads and enforcing rules against illegal and destructive activities.

The MAP actually reiterates rules that have been in place for many years, but haven’t been enforced. It leaves all public rights of way open for motorized vehicles, with the exception of a few that are currently too dangerous but will be opened when (and if) repaired. The roads the MAP closes to trucks, cars and motorcycles are all unofficial roads have been created by a variety of people and agencies over a long range of time.

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Jemima Mount in Wharton State Forest

Some key facts about the MAP that guide our decision to support it are these:

  • More than 220 miles of sand roads are open to the public for driving. All of Wharton State Forest is within one mile or less of these public sand roads or paved public roads. Check the maps: it’s true.
  • The liveries, including Pinelands Adventures and Micks and Bel Haven, as well as all other groups like PPA, are subject to the MAP just like the general public. There are no special deals for or against the groups supporting or opposing the MAP. PPA doesn’t get to charge people so they can go places in the woods. Like the other liveries, Adventures charges people for its livery service and boat rentals, not for access, because access is free to everyone (except the liveries, which pay the state for permits to the same places that are free to the public).
  • The Forest Fire Service strongly supports the MAP because it will keep the fire fighting roads it needs open and safe, whereas today many of those roads have become impassable and dangerous due to “mudding” by trucks and jeeps.
  • The only special accommodation in the MAP is for those with disabilities who cannot walk to their special places. The DEP states it will provide special permits to those with disabilities.

The MAP will only work if it is enforced by the State Park Police. Some people are justly worried that the people doing harm will ignore the rules and continue to use the “closed” sand roads, while law-abiding citizens will be the only ones excluded from driving on roads they have used for many years. The Department of Environmental Protection states that the Park Police will step up its game and make the MAP work. We will be watching to hold the State to that commitment.

If you need more information, you can download the DEP’s “Motorized Access Plan – Frequently Asked Questions document.”

The FAQs include information about how to share feedback with the state about the MAP and about stakeholder meetings that will be held on the MAP in September 2015. The DEP states that the MAP is a work in progress. The State Park Service will be evaluating the effectiveness of the plan and if possible some roads/routes may be opened in the future.

The Damage is Real

The Pinelands Preservation Alliance and the South Jersey Land and Water Trust documented some of the damage in 2014 when we mapped and surveyed sites of illegal off-road vehicle damage and dumping on state-owned lands in the Pinelands. We documented 114 damaged sites including sites in Wharton State Forest, which is by no means the complete list of the impacts our state lands have suffered from these illegal activities.

View an interactive map of the damage on our website.

We have heard from many people who use the Pinelands and Wharton State Forest to hunt, hike, drive and bike saying that in the last five to ten years they have never seen the roads torn up like they are now. Our own experience bears this out as a few of our staff have become stuck in deep puddles when out scouting routes for future field trips and have needed to get towed out. We have talked to tow truck drivers who had to change their equipment in order to reach customers in Wharton State Forest and elsewhere because the roads have become so bad.

Erosion and stream sedimentation are a big concern for riparian and aquatic species as well as our State’s anglers. The complete destruction some drivers have caused to certain vernal pools has reduced the amount of breeding grounds left for the threatened Pine Barrens Tree-frog. When vehicles drive down the sandy banks of the Mullica and the Batsto Rivers, they greatly increase erosion which causes soil sedimentation and the degradation of aquatic habitat. The problem of erosion caused by irresponsible off-road vehicle use isn’t restricted to just the riverbanks. Unethical drivers will purposely rut trails and wetlands areas to cover their vehicles in mud. The erosion caused by rutting leads again to river sedimentation and habitat destruction. There is no doubt that extensive damage has occurred in Wharton State Forest and elsewhere.

Enforcement

Enforcement of illegal off-roading activities has been difficult for the Park Police without a well-publicized map clearly designating areas for motorized vehicle use and areas where motorized vehicles are prohibited. This plan and map make it possible for the State Forest and Park Police to use their limited resources effectively by placing some roads off-limits to motorized vehicles.

The Wharton State Forest MAP is no different from management plans in all National Parks and State Forests, where many sand roads are not open to driving by the public in the interests of protecting natural resources and public safety. This means that some visitors may not be able to drive on a sand road they had used before. It is a shame that the situation has reached this point after years of work increasing fines through state legislation and local ordinances, increasing public awareness about the issues and creating a State off-road vehicle park. But the problem persists, and the State of New Jersey has a responsibility to protect the natural and cultural resources of all the land it owns.

The MAP will keep vehicles out of places that are currently being damaged, so these places can recover, and keep undamaged areas from becoming the next ORV playground.

PPA has helped organize volunteers to assist Wharton State Forest to protect and restore damaged areas. All volunteers work at the direction of the State Forest, not the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. No live trees were cut by volunteers. Blocking informal and illegal access ways to streams, wetlands and upland habitats is an important part of this project.

If you have any questions about this project please contact Wharton State Forest at 609-268-0444.

A good start to 2013

Thursday, February 14th, 2013
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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?

Thursday, July 5th, 2012
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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

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012
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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

Thursday, May 10th, 2012
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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

Friday, March 16th, 2012
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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

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011
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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

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011
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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.