Yo, guv!



Press of Atlantic City, February 22, 2004

Yo, guv!

State Sen. William Gormley has a knack for getting in people's faces,
literally and figuratively. His recent letter to Gov. James E.
McGreevey is a classic of that genre. In essence, it is a big "Yo!" -
an attempt to get the governor's attention on an important issue in
southern New Jersey.

The governor would be wise to listen, even if he disagrees some of
Gormley's points.

Gormley drew a picture of the state giving big bucks to wealthy,
politically powerful Highlands landowners in the north in order to
preserve their pristine forest land. In contrast, he portrayed the
poor, southern, Pinelands folk as getting the short end of the twig 25
years ago - heavy-handed government regulation that virtually stole
their land via the Pinelands Preservation Act.

Ah, this battle again...But north-south rhetoric aside, Gormley's
letter raises a valid point and a startlingly apt comparison.

The Pinelands/Highlands scenarios are nearly identical: A huge area
of pristine forest and wetlands overlying precious, vast underground
water resources, all threatened by development. A public resource that
must be preserved.

The state is planning to spend as much as $1 billion buying land to
preserve the Highlands, which spreads across seven northern counties.
Meanwhile, 25 years earlier, it preserved the Pinelands relatively on
the cheap - primarily with regulations that rendered some land almost
useless. And it threw other communities into a crisis of traffic
congestion, soaring property taxes and overcrowded schools.

In fairness, the state says it has spent $145 million on land
acquisition in the Pinelands during the past 25 years - and that's not
a small amount. But problems remain. In some high-growth areas, they
are worsening.

The governor's preservation plan for the Highlands is still in the
early stages. McGreevey deserves praise, not criticism, for the
initiative - the Highlands is in need of bold steps to protect it, and
quickly. Moreover, preserving land by buying it is always better and
more effective public policy than regulation alone.

But the taxpayers' pockets are only so deep. While the governor is
plumbing them for this worthy new initiative, he should try to come up
with some money - and more commitment - to solve some of the remaining
problems left by a similar bold initiative 25 years ago.

Vast amounts of the Pinelands have been successfully preserved. But
the cost has been great, especially in growth areas. And - despite a
questionable, brief building moratorium and a lot of talk - the state
has done little to ease that pain.

McGreevey should move forward with the Highlands plan. But the state
should do more than just learn from the mistakes made in a similar
effort 25 years ago. It should focus more effort on helping to correct



Date: 040222
From: http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/


By Thomas Barlas, Staff Writer, (609) 272-7201
Press of Atlantic City, February 19, 2004

State Sen. Bill Gormley doesn't know what he's talking about,
according to proponents of a plan to preserve northern New Jersey's

The McGreevey administration and a major New Jersey environmental
group reacted strongly Wednesday to Gormley's proposal to get more
money for Pinelands preservation and relief for Pinelands growth areas
out of the state's Highlands Protection Initiative.

Gov. James E. McGreevey is planning to spend an undetermined, but
significant, amount of money to buy pristine lands that are threatened
by development in a 1,000-square-mile area in Hunterdon, Somerset,
Sussex, Warren, Morris, Passaic and Bergen counties.

Gormley, R-Atlantic, asked McGreevey on Tuesday to include "in
whatever funding you propose for the purchase of property in the
Highlands, a significant portion for purchase of land in the

Gormley contends the McGreevey administration is finding money to
preserve land in the Highlands to the benefit of its wealthy and
influential residents. Meanwhile, middle-class residents in the 1.1
million-acre Pinelands National Reserve in Atlantic, Burlington,
Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Ocean counties have gone
25 years without the compensation they feel is needed to offset the
burden of Pinelands preservation regulation, he argues.

McGreevey spokesman Micah Rasmussen said Wednesday the state
departments of Environmental Protection and Agriculture alone have
spent more than $145 million in the past 25 years to preserve land in
the Pinelands.

"That's not an insignificant amount of money," said Rasmussen, adding
that buying land "has always been and will continue to be" a
significant part of preserving the Pinelands.

Gormley's argument that McGreevey plans to spend billions of dollars
to preserve Highlands land shows that Gormley is clueless as to the
Highlands plan, Rasmussen said. Preservation plans are still being
developed, he said, and no final cost figures are set.

Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the
Sierra Club, called Gormley's proposal to include money for Pinelands
land purchases "a crock."

Gormley is overlooking the fact that the state already has made major
land buys in the Pinelands, Tittel said, and thousands more acres are
protected in state forests.

"He's sort of dismissing the importance of the Highlands," Tittel
said of Gormley. "It's a critical resource to the people of New
Jersey. More than 4 million people from outside the Highlands get
their drinking water from the Highlands."

Gormley's proposal could hinder plans to preserve land in the
Highlands, which is losing land to development at a much faster pace
than in the Pinelands, Tittel said.

"In five years, there won't be enough of the Highlands left to save,"
Tittel said.

When asked if Gormley's proposal threatens the Highlands plan,
Rasmussen said, "I hope not."

"It's just as important to preserve the Highlands as it is to
preserve the Pinelands," Rasmussen said. "We are at the point in the
process with the Highlands that we were with the Pinelands 25 years

"Fortunately, that process didn't get mired down with politics,
although it could have. Statesmen at the time agreed on the need for
timely action."

Gormley called the response to his proposal "sad."

"Apparently, they've hobbled together old numbers that really aren't
comparable to what they're doing in the Highlands," Gormley said.

Gormley said he does not oppose the Highlands plan, but just wants
southern New Jersey residents who live in the Pinelands Reserve to get
the financial help they deserve.

"This is extraordinary aid based on extraordinary action by the state
of New Jersey," he said. "All we're asking for is equal treatment."

Gormley said he was shocked by Tittel's reaction to his proposal.

"Jeff Tittel ought to be consistent at both ends of the state,"
Gormley said. "Why doesn't Jeff Tittel visit the (classroom) trailers
in Egg Harbor Township?"

Gormley was referring to the use of trailers as classrooms due to the
student population increase brought on by Egg Harbor Township being
designated a Pinelands growth community.

The state moved in the 1970s to preserve lands in the Pinelands
Reserve, and that action set off a series of complaints from people
living there.

Residents complained for years about Pinelands regulations,
contending they unfairly restrict the use of the land, drive down
property values and impose unnecessary regulations.

They also blamed the regulations for causing unwanted development in
designated growth areas, such as Hamilton, Galloway and Egg Harbor
townships in Atlantic County.

McGreevey authorized the Highlands Protection Initiative last year,
and already has allocated millions of dollars to pay for land

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