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Natural Awakenings South Jersey

Pinelands Preservation Alliance Releases Annual State of the Pinelands Report: The report focuses on the state of Pinelands preservation and rates how specific actions of government agencies have either helped or harmed the Pinelands during the past

Pinelands Preservation Alliance Press Conference

August 4, 2011: Today the Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA) released its annual State of the Pinelands report. There is growing public concern that, while much of the Pinelands’ forests, streams and wetlands are surviving the pressures of sprawl, government agencies are not doing enough to save the Pine Barrens over the long term by controlling development and its impacts on water, open spaces, plants and wildlife.  The Pinelands Preservation Alliance shares these concerns as we reflect on the 32nd anniversary of the signing of the Pinelands Protection Act this past June. 

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

 

“Recent debates and actions of the Pinelands Commission and the DEP have placed their commitment to preserving the Pinelands in serious question,” stated Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.  Montgomery went on to say, “With three new appointments to the Pinelands Commission, and a new executive director, now is the time for the Commission to get back to its core mission as spelled out in legislation: to ‘protect, preserve and enhance’ the Pinelands.  In the coming year, the Commission faces critical tests that will show us where its soul really lies.” 

Some good initiatives came about this year. Governor Christie has made a public commitment to reverse the ecological decline of the Barnegat Bay Watershed, which is mostly located within the Pinelands National Reserve. In addition, four of his six nominations for the Pinelands Commission have been confirmed and sworn in as its newest members.  While PPA did not endorse all the Governor’s nominees, we are grateful that the Governor has acted on nominations, especially since the Commission has been hobbled by vacancies for years.  Nonetheless, we are disappointed that Ed Lloyd, a prominent environmental attorney, was not re-nominated.

PPA gives the Pinelands Commission high marks for implementing new procedures that restore public comment on government development and waiver applications at Commission meetings.  Approximately 18 months ago, in a stunning reversal of 30 years of practice, the Commission staff re-interpreted its rules to bar public comment at Commission meetings on these types of applications. PPA is pleased that the Commission recognized that public comment is a bedrock principle of any government process, and under the new executive director took steps to fix the problem.  The annual Pinelands Short Course sponsored by the Commission and Burlington County College continues to grow in popularity. Since its inception the Short Course has provided a wonderful opportunity for people to learn more about unique natural, historic, and cultural aspects of the Pine Barrens. The Short Course is something that the Commission takes great pride in, and deservedly so.

This year’s report also recognizes the fine work by what has become known as the Black Run Partnership. This initiative consists of a coalition of teachers and students in the Evesham and Lenape Regional School Districts, Evesham Township and REI, Inc. that have joined together to promote and protect Evesham Township’s Black Run Preserve as an educational and recreational resource for local schools and the public.

Both the Pinelands Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), however, have also taken a number of steps that threaten to pull back basic environmental protections.

Perhaps the most harmful proposal is a DEP proposed regulation to authorize waivers of virtually any environmental protection the agency enforces. This new rule, if adopted, “would ensure that powerful, well-connected applicants will be given special treatment at the expense of our water, air, and forests,” stated Montgomery. Another big disappointment this past year is that the highly respected Green Acres Program is starting to show that it is will succumb to political pressure. This year’s report highlights two “Green Acres Give Aways” for Stafford Township and Ocean County’s Robert J. Miller Airpark.  At the local level, Buena Vista Township continues to rack up municipal violations with total disregard to the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP).  Last count is that the township is now up to eleven violations, and it appears that the Commission is paralyzed in doing anything about the continuing problem. 

 

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

This disrespect for its own rules can be seen in the Pinelands Commission’s Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) process to allow private developers, municipal and county governments to avoid basic Pinelands environmental protections in order to promote new development that does not meet Pinelands rules. This year’s report highlights the on-going saga of the Stafford Park project as an example of how the MOA process can be used for the wrong reasons and, in doing so, harm natural resources and set bad precedents. This year, the Pinelands Commission and DEP agreed to dissolve a conservation restriction which was to protect the closed landfill cover at Stafford Park “unmolested” and “in perpetuity” so a private developer can build a for profit, industrial solar energy facility – all with no requirement to provide new, compensating open space.

“Although the Commission asserted that this case was unique, experience has shown that these cases are only unique until the next proposal with sufficient political and financial backing comes along,” stated Richard Bizub, Director for Water Programs for PPA.  Bizub went on to say, “Looking back, it unfortunately has become a textbook case in government civics of what not to do.”

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

 

The complete report is available at:

http://www.pinelandsalliance.org/protection/stateofthepinelands2011/

 

The Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA) was founded in 1989 as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization to advocate for preservation of the Pinelands and to educate the public about these extraordinary natural and cultural resources of this unique region.

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