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Messing with success in the Meadowlands

February 27th, 2015

RELEASE:Feb. 27, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 9

The transformation of the Hackensack Meadowlands over the past 45 years – from a polluted dumping ground and butt of countless jokes to a birdwatcher’s paradise, eco-tourism destination and top-flight sports complex – is a Jersey miracle.

It didn’t happen by chance. It was planned. A regional planning commission was established in 1969 to oversee land use in the 30-square-mile Meadowlands area of Hudson and Bergen counties.

The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission earned national recognition for its regional plan. It pioneered an inter-municipal tax sharing program for the 14 Meadowlands towns, helping to eliminate competition for property tax revenues.  The Meadowlands Master Plan established protections for wetlands and sensitive marshes, and helped guide development to appropriate locations.

Once blighted, today’s Meadowlands are an economic engine, environmental jewel and educational resource. 

So why was nearly a half-century of progress in the Meadowlands jettisoned by the state Legislature in a mere 11 days, without time for meaningful public comment? In the absence of any findings or documentation that would justify this action, it’s hard to find a reason.

The state Legislature introduced a bill on Jan. 11 that would effectively end regional planning in the Meadowlands. It was approved by both houses 11 days later, on Jan. 22.  This may have set a new speed record for the Legislature, and was a clear signal to New Jerseyans that their input was not wanted.

Despite pleas from planning, smart-growth and environmental groups that the bill be vetoed or conditionally vetoed, Governor Christie signed it into law on Feb. 5 while admitting it was “imperfect.” Plans were announced immediately for new legislation to clarify and modify the original. 

The law now on the books, signed by the governor, merged the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority and renamed it the Meadowlands Regional Commission. It also eliminated the property tax sharing program. 

Under the new law, towns within the Meadowlands region are now able to grant exceptions to planning and zoning regulations, and are no longer required to conform to the Meadowlands Master Plan. This seemingly reckless action sets back planning by decades, to the 1960s.

Because regional tax sharing has been eliminated, municipalities will once again vie for tax ratables.  According to the new law, a hotel tax of 3 percent will replace the tax sharing program. But much is unclear about how this would work … and the state will be on the hook if revenues fall short, meaning New Jersey taxpayers will ultimately pay.

The law also takes the Liberty State Park out of the control of the state Department of Environmental Protection by empowering the new commission to “evaluate, approve and implement” plans for its preservation, development, enhancement or improvement. This provision raises legitimate fears about potential commercialization of the park.

A bill to clarify and modify the new law – but only as it affects Liberty State Park – was introduced by the sponsors of the original bill, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen) and Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen). But the proposed “fix” does not adequately correct the concerns relating to control of the park.

And it does nothing to address the damage to New Jersey’s regional planning. This overnight move by the Legislature has undone 45 years of comprehensive land use planning – all without meaningful public discussion, debate or justification.

Please contact your legislators in Trenton! Tell them:

           Forty-five years of public investment in regional planning should not be reversed;

           This law sets a precedent for the dissolution of regional planning and sets our state back decades;

           The public interest is not served when laws are expedited without time for public comment;

           Wetlands and environmental protections for the Meadowlands must be maintained;

           The protection of Liberty State Park must be ensured to uphold the public trust and keep it as a public park.

To find your district’s legislators, go to www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp . To learn more about why the new law is a bad idea, go to www.njfuture.org/2015/02/04/veto-meadowlands-bill /.  To understand the work of the Meadowlands Commission go to www.njmeadowlands.gov/njmc/about/who-we-are.htm .

And for more information about preserving land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Buried creek to ‘see the light’ again

February 20th, 2015

RELEASE:Feb. 20, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 8

In downtown Trenton, it’s possible to stand on top of the Assunpink Creek without getting your feet wet. That’s because decades ago this tributary of the Delaware River was channeled into an underground culvert, disappearing from view between South Broad and South Warren streets.

This was never a good idea. The concrete channel prevented fish from migrating into the Delaware, and the natural beauty of the stream was lost to the public. Then, in 2006, part of the culvert roof collapsed, creating a safety hazard that had to be stabilized and fenced off. The area around it turned into an unsightly, overgrown lot.

But, thanks to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the Assunpink is set to rise again – literally – through a “daylighting” project.

The long-awaited restoration means removing the 500-foot culvert and creating a new stream channel closer to its historic location and farther from an existing office building. The stream will be stabilized with river stone and boulders, and native plants will grow along the banks.

The daylighting project will improve stream water quality and migratory fish habitat, and create a welcoming two-acre park near the historic Mill Hill neighborhood. The restoration site is about 1,000 feet upstream from the Assunpink’s mouth at the Delaware River.

The name Assunpink comes from the Lenape word for “stony, watery place,” describing the gravelly springs of New Jersey’s 65 million-year-old ancient coastline, the ironstone “cuesta,” or ridgeline, dividing the inner and outer coastal plains. The creek gathers intensity as it meanders west from Millstone Township in Monmouth County, through the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area and Mercer County Park, across the old, flat clays and silts of the Raritan and Magothy formations into Trenton.

The Assunpink played a role in Revolutionary War history. On Jan. 2, 1777, during the Second Battle of Trenton, the Continental Army and supporting militias held a defensive line along the creek’s south shore. Under George Washington’s command, the Americans repelled charges by British and Hessian soldiers across a stone bridge spanning the creek, as well as an attempt to ford the creek near its mouth.

 “This is a very positive step for our city,” said Trenton Mayor Eric E. Jackson of the Assunpink restoration. “It will enhance our downtown and help attract economic development, while improving the quality of life for our residents and visitors. It also will improve a vital historic location that housed Trenton’s first industrial development and was the site of an important battle in the American Revolution.”

Work is expected to begin on the $4 million restoration this spring, and should be completed by the end of 2016. The project is being financed 75 percent by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and 25 percent by the DEP, which is providing $1 million through a federal Clean Water Act grant.

Congratulations are due to all who helped shepherd the restoration through the long approval process. Cleaner water, an attractive outdoor natural area and the return of a bit of our history are healthy steps forward for our capital city!

For more information on the project, visit the New Jersey Future website at www.njfuture.org/issues/development/assunpink-creek-project/assunpink-daylighting. From there, you can click on a slide show that includes maps and historic photos.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and open space, go to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

How sweet it is … maple sugaring

February 13th, 2015

There’s a special magic that happens in late winter, when nights fall below freezing but sunny days warm up into the 40s. The temperature fluctuation causes sap to rise in maple trees, making possible the sweet treat that’s the best part of a pancake breakfast: maple syrup.

The northern part of North America is the only place in the world where maple syrup can be produced, and the technique of tapping maple trees was developed centuries ago by Native Americans and passed along to early settlers. 

Legend has it that the first person to discover the sweet potential of maple sap was the wife of an Iroquois chief who left his hatchet buried in a tree trunk overnight. After he pulled out the hatchet the next day, sap flowed from the cut into a container at the base of the tree. They decided to use the sap instead of water to boil their evening meal … and the rest is culinary history.

In pre-colonial times, maple sugar was the only sweetener available to Native Americans besides fruit. There was no honey in those days, as honeybees are not native to North America and were brought over later by Europeans. 

New Jersey may not be as famous for its maple syrup tradition as New England states, but we have plenty of maple trees and the right climate conditions.

Syrup can be made from the sap of any maple species – including sugar, red, silver or black – but the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) has the highest sugar concentration. Metal taps known as spiles are inserted into holes bored in tree trunks, and sap is collected in buckets. The watery sap is then boiled down into concentrated syrup; it takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce a single gallon of syrup.

Making maple syrup is a fun but time-consuming process, and the best way to learn is by going to maple sugaring festivals and demonstrations. As winter glides into spring, check out one of the many maple sugaring events being held across the Garden State.  Here’s a sampling:

Tenafly Nature Center, 313 Hudson Ave, Tenafly. Demonstrations will be held at 2 and 3:30 p.m. every Sunday from Feb.  15 through March 15. Visitors will check the center’s tapped trees and boil down sap to make fresh, warm syrup. On Sunday, March 22, there will be a pancake brunch, featuring fresh syrup from the center’s trees.

Lusscroft Farm, 50 Neilson Road, Wantage – This state-owned historic farm will hold a maple sugaring open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, March 14 and 15.

Morris County Outdoor Education Center, 247 Southern Boulevard, Chatham – Maple sugaring demonstrations will take place every Saturday and Sunday through March 8. The end of the season will be celebrated at the annual Maple Sugar Festival on Saturday, March 14, from noon to 4 p.m. For those thinking of making their own syrup at home, spiles are on sale, along with instructions on getting started.

Somerset County Environmental Education Center, Lord Stirling Road, Basking Ridge – A free 90-minute program will be held every Saturday and Sunday through March 15. Participants will hike a half-mile to the “Sugar Shack,” where the syrup is made. The program will be held Saturdays at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m.; and Sundays at noon and 2 p.m.

Duke Farms, Route 206, Hillsborough – The “Sugar Maple Celebration” will be held Saturday, Feb. 28, and Sunday, March 1 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visitors can take guided hikes,  and learn to identify and tap sugar maples, and boil down syrup.

Reeves Reed Arboretum, 165 Hobart Ave., Summit – The arboretum’s Maple Sugar Fest will be held Sunday, March 1, 1 to 4 p.m., featuring tapping and cooking demonstrations and taste tests.

Howell Living History Farm, 70 Wooden’s Lane, Lambertville – Maple sugaring demonstrations will be held on two Saturdays, Feb. 21 and 28. Tree tapping demonstrations are at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sap gathering is at noon and 2 p.m.

Stony  Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, 31 Titus Mill Road, Pennington  – The “Maple Sugar Memories” program will be held on Saturday, March 7; the first session runs from 10:30 a.m. to noon, and the second from 1:30 to 3 p.m.

Washington Crossing State Park, 355 Washington Crossing-Pennington Road, Titusville – Maple sugaring demonstrations will be held from 1 to 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 1, Saturday, March 7, and Saturday, March 14; and from 1:30 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 8.

Enjoy the sweet days of late winter at maple sugaring events in the Garden State! They may even inspire you to try it at home if you have maple trees!

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Garden State, or pipeline state?

February 6th, 2015

RELEASE:Feb. 6, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 6

New Jersey is currently awash in proposals for the construction of new pipelines. They will transport gas and oil from supply sources, crossing this state we’re in to deliver fuel to distribution and export points.  These plans are not good news for preserved open space and farmland.

There’s the proposed PennEast pipeline, which would carry natural gas from the Marcellus Shale “fracking” region of Pennsylvania to a location north of Trenton, crossing through a substantial amount of preserved lands in Hunterdon and Mercer counties, including important watersheds. Then there’s the proposed Diamond East pipeline, which would follow a parallel route a few miles to the east. 

The proposed Pilgrim Oil pipeline would carry Bakken shale oil produced in North Dakota from Albany, N.Y., to Linden, traversing numerous preserved lands in Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Essex and Union counties. And there’s the NJ Natural Gas pipeline proposed for Burlington, Monmouth and Ocean counties, and the South Jersey Gas pipeline proposed for the Pine Barrens in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties.

With so many plans out there – and perhaps more in the offing – you would think there would be a comprehensive review process that looks at the big picture and considers the necessity and cumulative impacts of so many pipelines. But there isn’t.

When these proposed pipelines cross state lines, they must be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Unfortunately, each individual proposal is reviewed independently, in a vacuum, as if the others didn’t exist. The combined effects on New Jersey are not addressed. And the proposals enjoy the full backing of current federal energy policy, which focuses on getting energy to markets quickly.

Gas and oil pipelines now present perhaps the single greatest threat to the integrity of preserved land in New Jersey.  The proposal affecting the most preserved land is PennEast.  Two potential routes are being considered, which could cross as many as 66 preserved parcels totaling nearly 4,500 acres.

The route of the proposed PennEast pipeline targets preserved farms and natural areas – properties that were protected for their soil quality, food production value, drinking water and the wildlife habitat. Protections on these lands are supposed to be permanent … as in forever.

The PennEast pipeline:

           Would cross the Delaware River, a federally-designated Wild & Scenic river, impacting the critically important water resources of the Delaware River Basin and the New Jersey Highlands.

           Would impact farms protected with federal farmland preservation funds, and other agricultural lands that have benefitted from U.S. Department of Agriculture funding for farm conservation practices.

           Runs counter to voter support for permanent land preservation, and would erode public trust in preservation programs.

Let’s not forget who pays for New Jersey’s investment in preserved land. Most preservation projects are paid for with our tax dollars at the local, county, state and federal levels.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides substantial federal funding for farmland preservation through the Farm Bill and other programs. When the FERC allows these lands to become a target for energy infrastructure, it creates a huge inconsistency between federal energy and land preservation policies.

It’s critical that all levels of government require comprehensive planning for energy infrastructure in a consistent, science-based, proactive manner that protects preserved and other high quality natural resource lands.

Please contact your U.S. Senators and Congressmen and ask them to change federal policy to require comprehensive planning for energy and infrastructure. To find your Congressman, go to http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/. To contact Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, go to http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm?State=NJ.

For more information about PennEast, go to www.njconservation.org/currentissues.htm.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Put roads on a low-salt diet!

January 30th, 2015

RELEASE:Jan. 30, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 5

As any doctor will tell you, too much salt in your diet is bad for your health. The same goes for salt on your local roads.

Why? Because most road salt is sodium chloride, the same stuff that fills your kitchen salt shakers. Excess road salt washes into storm sewers, streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs and wells. From there, it can easily find its way into drinking water.

“Road salt on the road keeps the roads safe in bad weather. Road salt off the road is toxic,” said Bill Kibler, director of science and policy at the Raritan Headwaters Association, a watchdog group serving the Raritan River watershed.

Not only can road salt contaminate drinking water, but it kills plants, ruins soil and harms the microscopic creatures living in streams and rivers.  “It can stress out aquatic life, or it can be fatal to them,” said Laura Kelm, director of water quality for the Great Swamp Watershed Association.

For those reasons and more, watershed organizations across New Jersey have advocated for smarter use of road salt in winter. The good news is that, in many places, the message is getting through.

One solution to the problem is brine, the same type of salty liquid that turns cucumbers into pickles. An increasing number of public works departments are spraying brine on their roadways instead rock salt. You may have noticed the white lines of dried residue on the pavement before snowstorms.

Brine contains sodium chloride, but diluting it in liquid significantly reduces the amount needed to keep roads ice-free. Traditional rock salt spreading wastes a lot of salt.

According to Kelm, a Michigan study showed that 30 percent of rock salt spread on roads immediately bounces off or is blown away by wind and vehicles. In other words, tons of salt end up in waterways without improving public safety.

The equipment used to mix and spray brine is expensive, noted Kelm, but some New Jersey towns are pooling their resources and sharing equipment. Because less salt is used when roads are brined, towns can use the savings to recoup their investment.

Public works departments that can’t afford new equipment for brining can still reduce their use of rock salt through simple actions like turning off salt spreaders when vehicles stop at intersections, and avoiding leaving piles of excess salt along roadsides at the end of a route.

Another alternative is using more environmentally friendly – but more expensive – ice melting chemicals like calcium chloride.

While most salt pollution in waterways is caused by large-scale salt spreading, home use of rock salt can be equally damaging.

“For homeowners, I would absolutely recommend avoiding the use of rock salt,” said Kibler. Not only is salt bad for the environment, but it also hurts pet paws, damages leather shoes and boots, causes concrete to crumble, damages floors in houses and corrodes the metal in cars.

Kibler recommends using calcium chloride or, even better, calcium magnesium acetate. But the best choice of all for driveways and sidewalks may be a sturdy snow shovel and a bucket of sand!

Kudos to the road departments – and homeowners – that have committed to a “low-salt diet” and are keeping pollution out of our waterways.

To learn more about water quality in your town, contact your local watershed organization. For a directory of watershed groups in New Jersey, go to http://njwrri.rutgers.edu/watershed_orgs.htm.

And for more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Keep hunters’ guns silent on Sundays

January 23rd, 2015

RELEASE:Jan. 23, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 4

“Keep close to Nature’s heart … and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” – John Muir

Peace and tranquility are increasingly scarce, with our busy lives filled with the blaring noise and lights of multiple electronics. Fortunately, we still have nature … a perfect antidote to stress and overload. Studies show that spending even a few minutes in a natural outdoor setting restores calmness and well-being.

But New Jersey’s natural areas would become less inviting as quiet havens from stress if a proposed bill allowing Sunday gun hunting goes through.

For decades, New Jersey and about 10 other eastern states have prohibited gun hunting on Sundays, preserving that one day of the week for quiet enjoyment of the outdoors without safety concerns.

Peaceful Sundays will end if this bill, S-699, now before the New Jersey Senate, becomes law. The proposal would make every day of the week, all year round, available for gun hunting. The bill was sponsored by Senator Joseph Kyrillos, who said the measure is designed to help firearms hunters whose schedules don’t allow them to hunt on other days.

However well intentioned, the bill would harm vastly more New Jerseyans than it helps. Last year, the state had fewer than 78,000 hunting license holders, while its population was almost 9 million. Hunters make up less than one percent of the population, and the bill doesn’t consider the other 99-plus percent – including families with children, hikers, birders, mountain bikers, nature photographers, dog walkers, equestrians, runners, trail builders and outdoor educators – whose schedules are equally demanding.

Sunday is the only day when many people – not just hunters – get outside and enjoy nature. In fact, many families specifically limit their woodland rambles to Sundays during deer hunting season, and outdoor organizations often organize hikes and trail rides for Sundays to avoid potential conflicts with gun hunters and assure peaceful enjoyment of our wild places.

The state already has various firearms hunting seasons spread across six days of the week for the entire year, which include hunting for the following animals: deer, bear, turkey, pheasant, bobwhite quail, snipe, woodcock, grouse, rail, crow, coyote, fox, possum, raccoon, squirrel, rabbit, woodchuck and various ducks and geese.

While hunters can play a crucial role in wildlife management by culling over-abundant deer, there is no demonstrated need for gun hunting 365 days a year. For those who want to hunt on Sundays, state law was changed in 2009 to allow bow hunting in state wildlife management areas and on private lands. And a currently proposed law would expand Sunday bow hunting to military lands within the state.

The overwhelming majority of New Jersey’s preserved state lands were paid for by our taxpayers. Tranquil enjoyment of our state lands should be guaranteed to the public at least one day each week.

If this bill, S-699, becomes law, Sundays will never be the same! Because so few East Coast states have Sunday gun hunting, New Jersey would become a weekend destination for out-of-state hunters, further reducing opportunities for safe and peaceful enjoyment of nature by our residents.

Please take action to defeat S-699 and any related bill that may be proposed in the state Assembly. Contact your legislators and ask them to keep the woods quiet and safe on Sundays. To find your legislator, go to www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp. You can also sign an online petition on Change.org at www.change.org/p/new-jersey-state-senate-stop-senate-bill-699-sunday-hunting-in-nj-parks?recruiter=217139801&utm_campaign=signature_receipt&utm_medium=email&utm_source=share_petition.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Celebrate the ‘Month of the Eagle’

January 16th, 2015

RELEASE:Jan. 16, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 3

It was only 30 to 40 years ago that things were looking grim for bald eagles in this state we’re in. Populations were plummeting across the United States due to pesticides. Eagles had all but vanished from New Jersey, with just a single nesting pair from 1970 to 1980.

But this iconic bird has made a remarkable comeback, thanks to a national ban on the pesticide DDT and the restoration efforts of wildlife biologists. By last year, New Jersey’s population was up to 156 territorial pairs, with 201 chicks hatched.

This rebound is true cause for celebration, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now!

The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, which supports the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program, has declared January the “Month of the Eagle.”

In addition, Conserve Wildlife biologist Larissa Smith has recruited volunteers from across the state to monitor known eagle nesting sites. “Basically, they go out once a week and let us know what they see,” she explained.

Why now? It turns out that January is a great month to watch bald eagles in the Garden State, as we have both year-round residents and wintering birds that come down from colder climates. And bald eagles are just beginning their new nesting season.  The first eggs were laid last year on Jan. 12, so this year’s incubation could start at any time.

“They’re definitely working on their nests,” reported Smith. “I was just driving down the Parkway and saw an eagle flying overhead carrying a stick, so that’s a sign.”

At the Franklin Parker Preserve in the Pine Barrens, volunteers have been monitoring an eagle nest for nine years. They think a second eagle pair may nest there this year, in part due to the success of an extensive wetlands restoration project on the preserve.

Eagles are now found in every county in New Jersey, although places like the Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Atlantic County and the Mannington Meadows of Salem County are particular “hot spots” due to large bodies of open water.

Eagle celebrations continue in February with the Cumberland County Winter Eagle Festival on Saturday, Feb. 7, in Mauricetown, along the Delaware Bay. The all-day event includes viewing sites with spotting scopes and bird experts, trail walks, speakers and presentations, and live raptor exhibits by the Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge. For more information, visit the festival’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/wintereaglefest.

For those who prefer to watch eagles from their couch, check out the Duke Farms Eagle Cam, which offers a bird’s eye view of a nest 80 feet high in a sycamore tree at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, Somerset County. Since the Eagle Cam began operating in 2008, more than 8 million viewers have logged on to watch a dozen eaglets hatch and fledge. Go to www.dukefarms.org/eaglecam.

Thanks to technology, we’re also learning about what happens to young eagles after they leave their nests and establish their own territories.  Last year two juveniles from South Jersey were outfitted with lightweight GPS “backpacks” to allow satellite tracking of their movements.

Unfortunately, one of the juveniles – a female named Millville – was found dead in November after apparently coming in contact with an electrical wire. But a male named Nacote – hatched at a nest near Nacote Creek in Port Republic – is alive and well.  To see an interactive map of his movements, go to www.conservewildlifenj.org/protecting/projects/baldeagle.

Eagles can travel great distances in a single day, so transmitters like the one Nacote wears help researchers learn more about their movements, roosting places and impacts of weather and land types. Nacote isn’t the only New Jersey eagle being tracked; a female named Haliae, hatched at the Merrill Creek Reservoir in Warren County in 2013, also wears a transmitter.

Celebrate eagles this winter! To read the 2014 “New Jersey Bald Eagle Project” report, with complete information on nesting pairs and their chicks, go to www.conservewildlifenj.org/downloads/cwnj_602.pdf.

And for more information about preserving land and natural resources in New Jersey, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

A matter of trust

January 9th, 2015

RELEASE:Jan. 9, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 2

For over 54 years, Green Acres has stood as one of the state’s most popular and trusted programs, preserving hundreds of thousands of acres from High Point to Cape May. These lands belong to the public, New Jersey citizens, who have voted time and again to fund Green Acres parks, forests and trails.

But this public trust is now in danger of being eroded, as the state weighs a proposal to sell off 80 acres of preserved land in Millville, Cumberland County, so it can be developed for industrial use.

At a recent public hearing in Trenton, citizens lined up to urge the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to reject its proposed “diversion” of the property, which is part of the state’s Menantico Ponds Wildlife Management Area.

Troubling questions were raised: Is the public trust being violated, and is the Green Acres Program losing sight of its mission to protect land in perpetuity?

“The public must have confidence in the state, as a guarantor, upholding the public trust,” asserted David Peifer of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions.

The state Department of Environmental Protection bought the former Durand Glass property in July 2013 because of its natural assets:  forested wildlife habitat, the pristine headwaters of two rivers and its location adjacent to thousands of acres of preserved lands. The preservation was part of a 40-year effort to protect the headwaters of the Menantico and Manumuskin rivers.

The property includes upland pine forest with an open, sandy understory. It’s a critical habitat for threatened Northern Pine Snakes, very likely habitat for endangered Corn Snakes, and breeding habitat for rare species including Box Turtle, Wood Thrush, Black-billed Cuckoo, and Whip-poor-will. And it may be habitat for the Northern Long-eared Bat, which has been proposed for the federal endangered species list.

In short, it’s a gem of a property that was preserved for all the right reasons.

But the city of Millville cried foul, claiming it didn’t know about plans to preserve the land and had wanted to use it for economic development. Lawsuits were filed.

Incredibly, the Green Acres Program capitulated, and has proposed removing the 80 acres from the wildlife management area and selling them for speculative development.

This action was unprecedented.  Although Green Acres rules permit “diversions” of preserved land to other uses under certain conditions, the properties are usually small and needed for public purposes, like road widening, schools or hospitals. Until now, large preserved properties desired for commercial use have not been on the table.

If the diversion is allowed, it would set a devastating precedent across this state we’re in. What would prevent other towns in a financial pinch from seeking to sell off preserved lands for commercial use? Could any park or natural area be considered fair game?

Green Acres rules prohibit towns and counties from selling conservation lands without a rigorous review. The state should be at least as vigilant with its own land! Approving this proposal would undermine its own rules, as well as the public trust, for conservation lands all over New Jersey.

Please tell the state it would be a breach of the public trust to “un-preserve” this land! Send written comments to the DEP by Jan. 20.  Comments should be addressed to: Judeth Piccinini Yeany, NJDEP Green Acres Program, Mail Code 501-01, P.O. Box 420, Trenton, NJ 08625-0420. Or you can email comments to Judeth.Yeany@dep.nj.gov.

And for more information on preserving land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Make some ‘green’ resolutions in 2015!

January 2nd, 2015

RELEASE:Jan. 2, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 1

It’s that time again, when the slate is wiped clean and we resolve to do things better in the new year.

So how about resolving to reduce your impact on the Earth? It’s clear that major changes are needed worldwide in the way we use energy and natural resources.

Bringing about sweeping changes may sound overwhelming, but individuals can and do make a difference! Never underestimate the impact one person can make by changing habits and committing to a greener footprint.

Here are some simple things you can do in 2015. 

Remember the Rs! Reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose, reclaim. Make it a personal challenge to create as little waste as possible. Recycle everything that you can. Don’t toss old furniture, clothing, electronics and other stuff. Fix them, find a new use for them or donate them.  Compost leaves, grass clippings, fruit peels and vegetable scraps instead of throwing them in the trash.

Don’t heat or cool an empty home.  Turn down the heat or air conditioning when you leave your home. Even better, invest in a programmable thermostat to automatically adjust the temperature at night and when the house is empty.  Consider how much of our electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal. The less you use, the less pollution goes into our atmosphere.

Try alternative transportation. Here in New Jersey, we’re very dependent on cars. Opt for public transportation or carpooling when possible. If you can walk or bicycle to work or errands – even occasionally – do it! Not only will it save energy, but it will improve your physical and mental health.

Be smooth behind the wheel.  Yes, gasoline is cheap right now, but that’s no license to be wasteful! Get in the habit of driving efficiently, avoiding quick acceleration and sudden braking. You’ll create fewer emissions and improve your car’s gas mileage. Don’t leave your car idling, and be sure to keep your tires inflated to the correct pressure.

Eat less meat and more plants. Raising livestock and poultry for food requires huge amounts of land, water and energy.  About 70 percent of the grains grown in this country are fed to “food animals,” and entire forest ecosystems are being converted to cattle ranches. Even if you’re not ready to go meat-free, you can help the environment by eating more meatless meals this year.

Go local and organic.  Whenever you can, buy local foods. Not only does it support your community’s economy, but it doesn’t require long-distance shipping and all the pollution that entails. If the food is organic, so much the better! Chemical fertilizers and pesticides can destroy the soil’s living organisms and harm pollinators.

Every drop counts.  New Jersey is fortunate not to have suffered terrible droughts, but we can’t take clean and plentiful water for granted.  Use it wisely. Don’t leave the faucet running while brushing your teeth or shaving. Switch to low-flow shower heads, and repair leaking faucets and toilets. If you have a garden, drain your gutters into a rain barrel and use that for watering.

Paper or plastic? How about neither! Ditch single-use shopping bags and switch to reusable bags. Buy a bundle and keep them in your car. It’s easier to carry groceries in strong reusable bags with good handles, and you won’t accumulate wads of single-use bags in your kitchen closet. 

Beware of vampires! “Vampire electronics,” that is … appliances and consumer gadgets that suck power even when they’re not “on.”  Defang the vampires by unplugging appliances and chargers when not in use, or using power strips with switches that can be flipped off. When you replace old electronics, look for products with low energy use in standby mode.

These are just a few modest actions that anyone can take. One person making a green resolution won’t save the planet, but one small change multiplied by 9 million New Jerseyans would have a huge positive impact!

Here’s to a green and healthy new year!  For more information about conserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

No Sterling Forest casino = good news for NJ water

December 22nd, 2014

RELEASE:Dec. 22, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 52

Sterling Forest, more than 22,000 acres of ruggedly spectacular forest in New York, just over New Jersey’s border, has been the target of many development proposals.  In addition to its natural beauty, its watershed supplies public wells and drinking water for many New Jerseyans.

Two decades ago, Sterling Forest’s pristine woods and waters were threatened by massive development plans for a new town of 35,000 people. Citizens in both states to fought to preserve the land. New Jersey Governors Jim Florio and Christine Todd Whitman and our state Legislature provided the first hard cash — $10 million – to protect these forested lands in New York State.

Today, Sterling Forest State Park is an unspoiled Highlands treasure only 40 miles from Manhattan.  Protected at a cost of some $100 million, it contains critical wildlife habitat, the headwaters of the Ramapo River, and wonderful places to hike and observe nature. Its visitor center is named for the late New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, who played a pivotal role in its protection.

Those who love the park – and those who depend on its watershed lands for their drinking water – won a major victory on December 17, when a New York casino commission rejected a 1.4 million square foot casino and resort smack dab in the middle of Sterling Forest.

An international casino company had sought to build a casino-resort complex on a 240-acre “inholding” of private land completely surrounded by Sterling Forest State Park.  According to projections, the complex would have attracted up to 7 million visitors a year, with parking for nearly 9,000 cars. At 122 feet high, the 1,000-room hotel would have dominated the landscape.

As they did in the 1990s, citizens from both New York and New Jersey banded together to stop the proposed casino.   “The proposed casino development is, simply and clearly, the wrong proposal in the wrong place,” wrote a coalition of groups, including New Jersey Conservation Foundation.  “There is no modification to the proposal that will make it acceptable.  By design, any large and heavily trafficked casino facility would bring irreparable damage to one of New York’s great natural areas.”

Nearly three million people in New Jersey and New York rely on surface water and groundwater from the Ramapo River and its watershed.  New Jersey’s Wanaque Reservoir and Oradell reservoirs depend on this water, as do municipal drinking water wells in Bergen County.

Kudos to New York gaming officials for not locating a casino-resort in beautiful Sterling Forest. Allowing this massive facility would have harmed all the values for which the state park was preserved.

But the eventual fate of the private, 240-acre “inholding” remains uncertain.  Large inholdings like this one are prime candidates for permanent preservation. Citizens of New Jersey and New York must remain vigilant and seek to preserve the property or, at least, make sure that future uses won’t harm Sterling Forest’s scenic beauty, watershed, and wildlife.

To learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

 
New Jersey Conservation Foundation           Bamboo Brook, 170 Longview Road, Far Hills, NJ 07931           908-234-1225           info@njconservation.org

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