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Pinelands Marks 33 Years of Protections

Date : Fri, 29 Jun 2012 12:48:33 -0400

For Immediate Release
June 28, 2012 Contact: Jeff Tittel, NJ Sierra Club, 609-558-9100

Pinelands Marks 33 Years of Protections

Anniversary of Pinelands Law Today marks the 33rd anniversary of the passage of the Pinelands Protection Act.The Pinelands is a truly unique and ecologically important region and protecting it is critical not only for our water supply but for biodiversity as well.The significance of the Pinelands is recognized at the state, national, and even international level.The Pinelands was named the first National Reserve in the country and is designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.The Sierra Club was one of the lead groups in creating the Pinelands 33 years ago.But the region's protections are under attack as never before under the Christie administration.The Governor is opening the region up for inappropriate development and pushing bad projects through.Governor Christie is calling for more sewers and growth areas that could jeopardize some of the most environmentally sensitive resources of the region.

"For 33 years the Pinelands has been the most successful regional planning and natural resource protection model in the country and now the Christie administration is trying to undo it.He is trying to repeal the Pinelands Act by forcing growth and growth-inducing infrastructure in environmentally sensitive areas," *said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club*.

Turning the Pinelands into a Growth Area and Adding Sewers

The Governor's State Strategic Plan promotes sprawl and overdevelopment in the Pinelands regions by usurping the Pinelands Comprehensive Master Plan (CMP).The Strategic Plan weakens regional planning protections and turns New Jersey over to developers.First the Strategic Plan changes existing Pinelands villages into growth areas.Then the Plan directs DEP to provide growth areas with sewers and allow higher density development, which could requirenew wastewater community treatment facilities or package plants.These provisions are being implemented through executive order and the DEP, overriding the Pinelands plan. This will require places in the middle of the Pinelands Preservation Area like Buena, Chatsworth, and Tabernacle to not only grow, but install urbanizing infrastructure.Places like Stafford Township will have more sewers in environmentally sensitive areas and will be slated for more development.

"The Governor is using the Strategic State Plan as a way to undermine and weaken protections in the Pinelands.The Strategic plan is being used to trump the Pinelands CMP and all other environmental plans.This is a very cynical move to get rid of protections in one of the most environmentally sensitive areas in New Jersey," said Jeff Tittel. In May the DEP and Pinelands Commission staff signed a Memorandum of Understanding placing villages, towns, and growth areas designated by the Pinelands Commission in sewer service areas, allowing for more dense development.Many of the villages and towns are in rural areas while many of the growth areas are environmentally sensitive. As the Christie administration opens the region up to sewers and high density development, the Senate will vote to extend developer permits in the region for the first time on the anniversary of the Pinelands Protection Act.Under previous Permit Extension Act bills the Pinelands had been excluded from the Act as an environmentally sensitive area.The current bill would allow developers to evade updated environmental standards, zoning, and public health requirements in the region.Pinelands villages and towns could see permits that expired as far back as January 1, 2007 extended.Allowing projects that are now no longer consistent with the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan could violate the federal Pinelands Act which prohibits changes to the CMP without approval of the Secretary of the Interior.The Assembly approved the bill on Monday and the Senate is set to vote on the bill tomorrow.

"This is a triple threat to the Pinelands between the Strategic Plan declaring Pinelands villages growth areas, the MOA requiring sewers, and the Permit Extension Act bringing dangerous projects in Pinelands villages and towns back to life.This opens the Pinelands up for sprawl and overdevelopment," said Jeff Tittel. As a growth area under the Strategic Plan these areas become a priority for funding for sewer infrastructure.The Sierra Club is concerned that the sewer lines will be funded through Environmental Infrastructure Trust monies or by developers as part of the approval process in exchange for higher density development.

"Historically developers will ask for higher densities in exchange for financing a sewer line to serve the project, creating pressure to build more and at higher densities to pay for the sewer lines," *said Jeff Tittel*. The Governor signed a bill to delay the adoption of updated Water Quality Management plans.This delay will give DEP time to rewrite and weaken the Water Quality Management Planning rules.The Ocean County plan is being changed to open up to 16,000 acres of environmentally sensitive areas to sewer service.This would result in an additional 125,000 people in the Barnegat Bay watershed. Opening the Pinelands up to sewers will result in more non-point pollution entering the Barnegat Bay and other estuaries and will make it virtually impossible for the DEP to implement a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Barnegat Bay.A TMDL is a tool under the Clean Water Act to reduce pollution entering a waterbody and outlines steps to achieve those reductions.This MOU will increase pollution from a number of new sources undermining the ability to develop and implement a TMDL for the Bay. Developing more densely and in new portions of the Pinelands will require additional pumping that could impact the aquifer and water table.Decreased ground water levels would impact the wetlands that provide critical habitat throughout the region. The amount of water withdrawals from the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer could double to serve population increases in Ocean County alone, having devastating impacts on the Bay.We are still waiting for the study on the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer that was supposed to be completed in 2005.

"When you are in South Jersey, the Pinelands is where the sprawl ends.The Pinelands are a vast green oasis in the middle of all the New Jersey sprawl.And now the Governor wants to sprawl that over too, threatening one of the most unique ecosystems in the world," said Jeff Tittel.

Barnegat Bay** The Governor has also failed to do anything to address the pollution in the Barnegat Bay.The Bay continues to deteriorate while the administration focuses on studies instead of implementing land use or pollution reduction policies.The Governor vetoed the TMDL bill which would have required pollution reductions over the next 3 years and bills to clean up stormwater and retrofit detention basins.The Governor signed an Administrative Order allowing the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant to pollute the Bay until 2019 and after that Exelon, the plant owner, can appeal to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to keep the plant open. Governor Christie is rolling back water quality protection rules and other environmental regulations that have actually protected and cleaned up the Kirkwood- Cohansey aquifer, the Barnegat Bay, and other waterways.The DEP is overhauling and weakening Category 1 protections, stream buffer rules, flood hazard area rules, stormwater management rules, and the "impact to groundwater" standards.

Bad Projects Move Forward The DEP is allowing major development projects to go forward without proper mitigation. The Pinelands Commission is considering a proposal to expand the Robert Miller Airpark in the Preservation Zone.The facility has already grown and has reached its 50% expansion limit under the Pinelands plan.The Commission would enter into an MOA with Ocean County, allowing the County to transform the recreational airpark into a real airport.For the expansion, Ocean County would be allowed to destroy threatened and endangered species habitat without identifying replacement land or mitigation projects and measures beforehand. After originally denying a new Wal-Mart on threatened species habitat on the Manchester-Toms River border, DEP Commissioner Martin entered into a settlement with developer Jaylin Holdings LLC to allow the project to move forward.The new store would be located on habitat for the state threatened Northern Pine Snake and a few yards down Route 37 from an existing Wal-Mart in Toms River.In exchange for destroying the existing pine snake habitat, Jaylin will permanently preserve 212 acres of land whose development potential is already severely limited by the Pinelands Commission and endangered species regulations. Pine snake habitat was also destroyed for the Ocean Acres development in Barnegat.135 homes were built in an environmentally sensitive area.

"Northern pine snakes are in serious decline in New Jersey due to destruction and fracturing of their habitat as a result of development," said Jeff Tittel."Allowing further development that close to existing dens will simply destroy the snake population".

Solar Rules Allow Panels in Sensitive Areas

In December the Pinelands Commission finalized solar siting rules that would allow for installations on wetlands, in environmentally sensitive areas, and all areas of the Pinelands including the preservation areas. Solar installations can be sized for commercial operations not just to generate the amount of electricity for farm operations.There are no requirements for locating panels near existing transmission lines.Instead we are going to be creating new right-of-ways and cutting down swaths of the Pinelands.We are concerned the Pinelands Commission will use these solar installations as a way to get around environmental regulations and to destroy emergent wetlands and forest systems.

"We strongly believe that solar is an important form of renewable energy, however it does not belong everywhere.There are better locations for these panels than in the middle of the Pinelands and environmentally sensitive areas," said *Jeff Tittel.*

Bill Opens Pinelands to Development The Legislature is also taking aim at Pinelands protections.Bill *A2629, sponsopred by Assemblyman Scott Rudder*would exempt businesses using existing commercial structures from some standards of the Pinelands Commission approval process.Under the guise of the economic downturn, Assemblyman Rudder wants to waive compliance with the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan.Under this bill you could turn an abandoned garage into a metal fabricating shop or a small cogeneration power plant. An existing house in a commercial zone could be transformed into a Wawa or a shed into a Dunkin Donuts.Pinelands Commission review ensures the commercial development is compatible with the existing use and that the project will not extend pollution and nuisance to other residents and property owners.Without proper review you could be increasing traffic, pollution, and noise, impacting the surrounding community. This would be done without public notice and hearings.

"This legislation will undo 33 years of environmental protections and planning.This is not about helping the economy, this is about helping special interests and hurting the environment," said Jeff Tittel.

"Overall Governor Christie has not been as bad with the Pinelands as he has been with the Highlands yet.Some groups may say 'it could be worse,' but given the history of the Pinelands and how successful it has been, this administration rates an F in Pinelands protections," *said Jeff Tittel*.

Kate Millsaps
Program Assistant
NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club
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