Date: 040218
From: http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/newjersey/

By Thomas Barlas, Staff Writer, (609) 272-7201
Press of Atlantic City, February 18, 2004

There are 1,000 square miles of pristine land in northern New Jersey
where wetlands, plants, wildlife, freshwater supplies and forests are
threatened by development.

The state wants to protect that land in Hunterdon, Somerset, Sussex,
Warren, Morris, Passaic and Bergen counties.

There are another 1.1 million acres of pristine land in southern New
Jersey, where wetlands, plants, wildlife, freshwater supplies and
forests are threatened by development.

The state has tried to protect it for the past 25 years.

The difference, at least according to state Sen. Bill Gormley, R-
Atlantic, involves money and political influence.

The senator contends the McGreevey administration is finding the
money to preserve land in the Highlands while providing compensation
to wealthy and influential northern New Jersey residents.

However, residents of the Pinelands Reserve in southern New Jersey
have gone 25 years without the compensation they feel is needed to
offset the burden of the preservation regulations.

Gormley is hoping to use the state's plan to spend what he contends
will be billions of dollars to preserve the Highlands region of
northern New Jersey as leverage to get Gov. James E. McGreevey to do
the same thing in the Pinelands Reserve in southern New Jersey.

"I propose that you include, in whatever funding you propose for the
purchase of property in the Highlands, a significant portion for
purchase of land in the Pinelands," Gormley states in a letter sent to
McGreevey on Tuesday. "Relief for the (Pinelands) growth area is long

Gormley said he would even settle for millions of dollars instead of
billions of dollars.

"Just give me something to work with," he said in an interview.

Gormley sent copies of his letter to other members of the Legislature
from southern New Jersey in an attempt to gain support for his

State Sen. Nicholas Asselta, R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, said
the plan makes sense.

"If (McGreevey's) looking to preserve some of that land and
compensate them for the land up there, why can't he do it down here?"
he said. "This might be the appropriate time."

Officials with McGreevey's office weren't available for comment.

The Pinelands Reserve covers 1.1 million acres across 56
municipalities in Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland,
Gloucester and Ocean counties.

In the 1970s, the state moved in to preserve the area, which set off
a series of complaints from people living in the reserve.

Residents complained for years about Pinelands regulations,
contending they unfairly restrict land use, drive down property values
and impose unnecessary regulations. The regulations also are blamed
for causing unwanted development in designated growth areas, such as
Hamilton, Galloway and Egg Harbor townships in Atlantic County.

The Highlands region encompasses 1,000 square miles and 87
municipalities in seven northern New Jersey counties.

Last year, McGreevey authorized the Highlands Protection Initiative
to preserve land that - like land in what became the Pinelands Reserve
- is being threatened by development. McGreevey has already allocated
millions of dollars to pay for land purchases.

Gormley's letter to McGreevey takes the form of a television
documentary script and describes how lands in northern and southern
New Jersey need to be preserved, and how that was to be done in "bold
initiatives" by sitting governors.

But, Gormley writes, the documentary then branches into two stories:

# One story is about the primarily middle-class residents of the
Pinelands, "who were forced to forfeit the value of their land so
that others, most of whom would be from out of the region, could
enjoy it."

# The other story is about the "wealthy, influential, and suburban"
residents of the Highlands, and how the state would "find funding
to compensate the wealthy landowners for the loss and

"It is a strange story, but from what I read of your proposed plan,
it is unfortunately a true story," Gormley writes.

Gormley said he called McGreevey's office on Tuesday to alert him of
the letter.

"This is nothing sneaky or nefarious," he said.

* * *

To email Thomas Barlas at The Press: TBarlas@pressofac.com