Annual State of the Pinelands Report Released by Pinelands Preservation Alliance
Pinelands Preservation Alliance Releases Annual State of the Pinelands Report
Today the Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA) released its 2012 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 release this year’s State of the Pinelands Report.
The complete report is attached as a PDF file and is also available at:
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.
In general, there has been a constant weakening of environmental protections at all levels of government during the past few years, including the Pinelands Commission.
“The Pinelands Commission has lost its leadership position in recent years, instead succumbing to political pressures that confine its efforts to case-by-case waivers for developments that violate the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan,” stated Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. Montgomery went on to say, “The Commission now has the perfect opportunity through its fourth Plan Review to reassert its role as guardian of the Pinelands by adopting reforms that experience shows are needed to protect Pinelands resources.”
Some good initiatives and outcomes came about this past year. Despite challenging economic times, Governor Christie kept funding for the Pinelands Commission relatively stable for the coming fiscal year. 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. In addition, this year the Commission science staff has started a seminar series in which experts are invited to discuss their research. The presentations are informative and open to the public.
After listening to concerns of residents of Buena Vista Township, the Township Committee voted to discontinue efforts to build a package sewage treatment plant to service the Richland Village Redevelopment project. The project risked over-development of the rural setting of the village.
This year’s report also recognizes the important steps taken by the Evesham Township Council and residents to protect the Black Run Preserve, a 1,300 acre area of exceptional Pine Barrens habitat at the edge of the Pinelands. The Planning Board adopted a new Open Space Plan, which specifically emphasizes protection of the Black Run Preserve, and a group of residents have formed a new organization called the Friends for the Black Run Preserve to facilitate education and stewardship of this unique area.
PPA also gives high marks to GreenFaith, a national interfaith environmental organization based in New Jersey for launching a new program to encourage houses of worship to conserve water at its facilities, to preserve water quality on its grounds, and to encourage its members to conserve water at home. GreenFaith will provide resources and support to participating congregations. The Pinelands and Barnegat Bay Watershed are the areas of focus for southern New Jersey.
However, this year we have also witnessed some troubling actions by both the Pinelands Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that threaten to pull back basic environmental protections.
The Commission once again used the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) process to ignore its own rules. This time it authorized the expansion of a non-conforming commercial use, in this case at the Robert J. Miller Airpark, in the Preservation Area of Ocean County. The Commission admittedly waived its standards for threatened and endangered species, wetlands, wetlands buffers, and stormwater.
“It is shocking, but becoming more common, that the Pinelands Commission today justifies a development approval such as the Airpark, by first dismissing the bedrock environmental standards that protect rare wildlife species, wetlands, wetlands buffers and water quality,” stated Richard Bizub, Director for Water Programs.
For the first time since the inception of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, the Commission released Pinelands Development Credit (PDC) restrictions for a Burlington County road widening project without knowing what will be given back as an offset for the loss of Pinelands Agriculture. So now there is no guarantee that anything of value will be given in return by the county.
Perhaps the most troubling action this past year, taken by the DEP, is the adoption of a rule to authorize waivers of virtually any environmental protection the agency enforces.
“This new rule ensures that powerful, well-connected applicants will be given special treatment at the expense of our water, air, and forests,” stated Montgomery.
This year, the DEP also did a 180-degree reversal of position with respect to the Wal-Mart proposal in Manchester Township. Throwing their own rules aside, DEP caved in and reversed their position after it previously denied exactly the same development on environmental grounds.
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.
The past few years have cemented PPA’s conviction that if the Pinelands is going to survive as a unique place for future generations, it is going to require more than government regulations and PPA watching over the Pinelands Commission.
“It is going to take a citizenry committed to holding our elected and appointed officials’ feet to the fire. And perhaps most of all, it is going to require a new generation of citizen activists to accomplish this important task,” stated Bizub.
PPA hopes this sixth 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 attached as a PDF file and is also available at:
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.