Alex and Laura of Pennington go into details of of how their farm was preserved through the New Jersey Green Acres program several years ago:
Let me say categorically and emphatically that we are strongly against this idea. We worked extremely hard over many years with a consortium of nonprofit land preservation organizations to place a conservation easement over our property, which formed a cornerstone of preserved lands that include significant and vital stream corridor and woodland habitats for wildlife. It seems outrageous that the government, acting through New Jersey’s Green-Acre Program, would work so hard and expend so much of the public’s treasure and effort to preserve land, only to allow you to smash a substantial right-of-way, which would involve cutting down large amounts of preserved forests and carving through wetlands, through pristine lands that provide important ecological resources. It perhaps goes without saying that the stream corridors and wetlands and surrounding woodlands provide vital habitat for wildlife, important buffer zones for aquifer recharge and storm water sequestration, and passive recreation opportunities for residents. Our property, which we worked so hard to preserve, provides roughly 4000 feet of such stream corridor preservation, which you propose to undo completely.
Let me review a few of the facts we discussed. We granted a conservation easement over our property in December 2003 to a group of nonprofit land trust oriented organizations, including the Delaware and Raritan Greenway Land Trust, the Borough of Pennington, a local municipality, and the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association. Each of these organizations used an allocation of available funds from the New Jersey Green-Acres program. The transaction was a so-called bargain sale, in which the nonprofit organizations and municipality contributed a portion of the funds for the bargain sale, and we donated a substantial portion of the value. We have lived quietly on the property since this time and worked to continue to preserve and maintain the conservation values of the ecologically sensitive lands and open spaces. The easement in question involves a combination of conservation easement areas(>95%), with and without public access, and a small portion dedicated to our private residential use, that comprises less than 5% of the property.
Left unchecked, this project would powerfully dissuade people granting conservation easements over the lands in the future. In light of the diminished state financial resources that are available for land preservation now and in future, it will dramatically undermine the willingness of individual private landowners to grant conservation easements over their lands, and set back the cause of preserving land in our region to a measurable degree. These easements provide a vital tool to prevent real estate development from encroaching on the semi-agrarian nature of our region and our quality of life, and create the conditions under which we avoid flooding, create aquifer recharge, and maintain wildlife population and recreational opportunities.
The public access areas dedicated to the public access-conservation use are used by dozens of people a day for passive recreation such as running, hiking, walking and cross-country skiing. The trails are well used. The trails on the property that pivotally connect to interlocking lands owned by the state of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in the so-called Lake Baldwin Wildlife Management Area, and other lands protected from development and under conservation easement that are owned and managed by the D&R Greenway Land Trust together comprise a mosaic of hundreds of acres of preserved property, trails and natural beauty that provide an important buffer to development and a vital ecological function.
Your project would unavoidably cut through these important trail networksand wetlands, cutting across a swath of woods and agricultural lands, and reducing their conservation value. Protecting preserved lands is a critical stewardship function of the local land trusts we worked with and who continue to have responsibility for this vital role. I served astrustee of the D&R Greenway Land Trust for eight years after we granted the conservation easement, because I felt it was important to work hard in this critical stewardship process of defending the easements once they are granted and finding new properties to preserve. My wife Laura, has recently joined the board of the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association in part driven by a similar concern.
We pledge to you that together with as many willing nonprofit land preservation organizations as will support us, and by organizing individual owners of property affected by your plan, we will work hard to defeat your project at every stage. As a society we cannot abide by the wanton destruction of preserved lands.
They bring up a very good point I hadn’t considered before: by breaking conservation easements, PennEast will be providing a powerful disincentive for people to protect lands in the future.
Their entire submission is available below: