Monday, November 29, 2010

The Northern Pine Snake vs Development


Apparently, a population of Northern Pine Snakes (Pituophis melanoleucus melanoleucus) has lost a battle with developers to build the Stafford Business Park in southern New Jersey. Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation reports that the State of New Jersey recently decided to give away (via 30-year lease) 57 acres of a municipal park. The following is a modified version of Byers' article published on NJTODAY.net. The state approved a diversion of public open space in Ocean County’s Stafford Township so a private corporation could use it for their private profit – a precedent so bad that all taxpayers should be concerned for the future of preserved farms and other open spaces we’ve paid for. The property had been used as a landfill until 1982, when Stafford Township stopped accepting solid waste. Since then, it has been maintained with grasses and has become habitat for threatened and endangered species. In order to receive Pinelands Commission approval for the habitat damage, the developer, town and county signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to preserve adjacent land, including the recently-capped former landfill. This property is now regenerating back to grassland habitat used by pine snakes moving in and out of the adjacent Stafford Forge Wildlife Management Area. However, the township applied for a “diversion” of the land, so that the developer could build a solar energy generating facility under a 30-year lease. The Pinelands Commission ignored its original agreement to permanently preserve this habitat, and amended its memorandum of agreement to allow for the facility. The N.J. Department of Environmental Protection approved the diversion, lauding the jobs and clean energy the project will bring. The N.J. State House Commission approved the project on Monday, Nov. 22. The state’s diversion process is designed to weigh these proposals against the public’s established interest in the preserved land. And if a case is compelling enough to approve a diversion, the process is supposed to ensure adequate compensation to the public for releasing the land – usually through additional open space gains so there is no net loss of parkland. This is where the Stafford case takes on its more disturbing aspects.

On August 4, 2010, the pressofAtlanticCity.com reported that the Stafford Township Council tabled a public hearing and vote on a controversial ordinance to amend the redevelopment plan for the Stafford Business Park. Residents were frustrated over the plan because of the council's lack of transparency and that council was ignoring the development restrictions set forth in the agreement the township made with the state Pinelands Commission in order to get the Stafford Business Park built.

The Stafford Business Park is a 360 acre project that includes plans to install 1,026 solar panels on the surface of a capped landfill that will produce up to 70 percent of the power needed to operate the business park when it’s fully built out. The 6.5-megawatt facility in southern Ocean County is one of the largest solar power projects being proposed in the state, and is being developed by the Walters Group. The energy that will be produced by the solar farm is said to be enough to power 1,500 homes and eliminate about 6,700 tons of CO2 emissions. The business park also includes a 112-unit affordable housing apartment building that has earned the first LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for an affordable housing project in the state. The retail portion of the park also has met a minimum of LEED Silver certification.

The 370-acre, redevelopment also entailed an environmental remediation process that included the clean-up of two leaching landfills that were contaminating groundwater. The landfill closure efforts were certified by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) in May 2009, according to Walters. The project developers also had to relocate rare plants and build a new habitat for tree frogs and the Northern Pine Snakes, along with implementing an extensive monitoring program.

The threatened and endangered plant and animal survey of the site was done by EcolSciences. Their website (http://www.ecolsciences.com/projects.html) contains the following statement:  "EcolSciences conducted a multi-year study of threatened/endangered plant and animal species on a 360±-acre Stafford Business Park in Stafford Township, Ocean County. This study was used to formulate a Species Management Plan for a MOA entered between Stafford Township, Ocean County, Walters Homes Inc., and the NJ Pinelands Commission. The MOA allowed the closing of a former municipal landfill and the residential redevelopment of the site. As part of the study, several miles of trap lines were monitored daily to capture the threatened Northern Pine Snake. A total of 32 pine snakes were captured of which 16 were implanted with radio-transmitters and tracked three times a week. Four nest sites and two communal den sites were located. Following extensive negotiations with the Executive Director of the Pinelands Commission and his staff, the pine snakes were relocated and construction has commenced."

We know how well snake relocation programs work.

The Northern Pine Snake is also under pressure from Jaylin Holdings, a company that submitted a second application to the NJDEP for a proposed Walmart Supercenter located on Route 37 in Toms River and Manchester Township's in Ocean County. The permit has been turned down as recently as March 16, but Walmart is known for its persistence in developing new stores.  Prior to this action (on January 8, 2010) the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection made the determination to deny the petition request by the New Jersey Builders Association to amend and remove the "threatened" status of the Northern Pine Snake (Pituophis melanoleucus).

Sources:
Byers article: http://njtoday.net/2010/11/29/this-land-is-our-land%E2%80%A6-but-for-how-long/

Ecolsciences article: http://www.ecolsciences.com/projects.html

Energy and Environmental Leader: http://www.environmentalleader.com/2010/09/01/nj-business-park-proposes-6-5-mw-solar-power-system/

Pinesland Watch (March-April 07): http://www.pinelandsalliance.org/downloads/pinelandsalliance_41.pdf

pressofAtlanticCity.com: http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/press/ocean/article_84afa0b0-5805-5351-ad31-b529d26e3ed3.html

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