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Christie Spins on Open Space While Cutting Funding

Date : Fri, 21 Sep 2012 10:19:12 -0400

For Immediate Release
September 18, 2012 Contact Jeff Tittel,609-558-9100 <tel:609-558-9100>

Christie Spins on Open Space While Cutting Funding

Today the Christie administration announced they are appropriating $123 million in voter approved bonds for open space purchases.These bonds were passed in 2009 and since then no action has been taken to establish a stable source of funding for purchasing new properties.Having a stable source of funding is important to preserve environmentally sensitive areas through Green Acres, keep important agricultural soils in active farming through the farmland preservation program, and to help get families out of harm's way through Blue Acres which purchases flood prone properties.Even with the release of the bonds today, open space funding is dramatically down under Governor Christie.

"The Governor is putting out a press release and taking credit for a program that he has cut in half while weakening environmental protections.But this is an administration that cares more about press releases and photo-ops than they do about protecting the environment and open space.We are glad they approved the funding but we are running out of money and this may be one of the last big appropriations for a long time.The money that we spend per year has dropped by more than half and we may run out.This is going to be first time in almost four decades we are going to be out of open space funding.The Governor's record on open space funding has been disappointing.Not only has he cut the funding in half but he has no plans on how to replenish the funds.Running out of funds will result in more sprawl, pollution, and traffic," *said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club*. The Green Acres Program funding is about a 45% less than 4 years ago. In May Commissioner Martin reported we only had $194 million left in Green Acres for next two years.That is the lowest it has been in the past 20 years.With the release of the bonds today that would still only be about $158 million a year, compared to $235 million annually over past eleven years.Sixty percent of the Garden State Preservation Trust goes to Green Acres acquisitions. In 2005 the Garden State Preservation Trust spent $344 million, a high point.With real estate prices low, we should be investing more in open space protection, not cutting back. There is $8 million in funding for the Highlands region, under previous administrations we were averaging $60 million a year.If the Governor wanted to protect the water supply for 5.4 million state residents we would be dedicating money to buy open space in the region and make land owners whole. The Governor is only devoting $3 million to acquisitions around the Barnegat Bay, which will do let to help the Bay and sprawl and overdevelopment are the biggest threats to the Bay's health.Open space funding would help limit this inappropriate growth and protect the most sensitive areas in the watershed. During the period from 1998 to 2008 Green Acres alone averaged 21,000 acres per year, now we are buying less than half of that. There is more than $500 million in back log to match money being put up by local governments to buy open space.During the last two decades we were losing between 15,000 and 20,000 acres to development each year, while we are only purchasing 10,000 acres of open space per year. We have seen sprawl turn the nurseries and flower farms along the Route 1 Corridor into office parks and shopping malls.

"We need a long term stable source of funding for open space acquisitions. We shouldn't be bonding anymore we need pay as you go, which needs to come from a new sources such as a water surcharge so we do not cut environmental programs. We can't keep going from bond to bust," said Tittel. "The most popular programs in state's history will be coming to an end unless we find a stable source of funding. If that happens more land will be lost to development and sprawl. This is the best time to be buying open space when prices are low and may not get this opportunity for another generation." While the Governor is taking credit for preserving open space, on the other hand his administration allowing the diversion of open space for polluting projects.The State House Commission and Green Acres Program approved the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast Upgrade project which would cut underneath the Monksville Reservoir and Delaware River.About 50% of the fossil fuel project would be on public lands.The administration approved the company's prior 300 line project through Wawayanda and Long Pond Ironworks State Parks.Land in Liberty State Park will also be diverted by the administration for the polluting Spectra Pipeline.The Commission and Green Acres is set to approve land diversions for the Susquehanna-Roseland transmission line next week, permitting the expansion of power line to carry more coal across lands that are supposed to be held in the public trust.

Kate Millsaps
Conservation Program Coordinator
NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club
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