NJ Will Retry Tree Removal Plan for Bass River Fire Tower

Oct 24, 2018
Photo by: Pat Johnson ROADS OF HOME: A sand road in Bass River Forest through the area of the pine forest that would have been cut.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has notified the Pinelands Commission it will resubmit its application to clear 16.4 acres in Bass River State Forest to improve the field of view from a fire spotter tower.

“The new application will include additional public information for consideration by the commissioners and for public comment. The DEP appreciates the public interest in this critical project and remains respectful of the Pinelands Commission process,” said NJDEP spokesperson Caryn Shinske.

During an Oct. 12 Pinelands Commission meeting, Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg reported a letter that week from the assistant DEP director said the initial application is withdrawn, and a revised application will be submitted in the future. “They would start the process all over again with a new application, public comment and just start over. All I received is that letter.”

Pinelands Commission Chairman Sean Earlen asked if the DEP indicated a timeline.

“Nope,” said Wittenberg.

Commissioner Mark Lohbauer said he was grateful to the assistant director for his decision to again open the process up to the public.

At issue with the original application was the DEP’s lack of information on using alternative technologies such as cameras to monitor the Pine Barrens rather than a person in a fire tower.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, took the announcement as a blow struck for public advocacy.

“This is a victory for the Pinelands and the people who have been fighting this unnecessary project. It didn’t make sense to clear-cut 16 acres of trees and the DEP knew they didn’t have the votes of the Commission to go forward since they already voted it down. The whole point of having fire towers is to protect the forest. This was an unnecessary action that would cause more harm to the Pinelands than good. It could’ve ended up allowing for more invasive species in areas with barred owl and other natural species, for a fire tower that isn’t used regularly. This proposal was counter-productive and we are happy to see the DEP withdraw it.”

He suggested, “With technology, there is no need to cut down the forest in order to see the forest fire. Why would we cut down parts of the forest if the goal is to save it from being destructed? We will continue to fight similar proposals by the DEP because it makes no sense to clear-cut 16 acres to see forest fires.”

Advanced technology could include adding cameras and sensors on the tower or using drone, night-vision, and heat-sensing technology, said Tittel.

“If (Governor) Murphy had made better appointments to the Pinelands Commission, we’d have had enough pro-environmental votes to strike this down earlier. Murphy must keep his commitment to make appointments to the Commission that will uphold protecting the Pinelands. We will stay vigilant and fight back against other proposals that go against the best interest of the Pinelands.”

Solar Arrays in Pinelands

Also during the Oct. 12 Pinelands Commission meeting, Earlen said he had met with Wittenberg to discuss forming a subcommittee to address alternative energy and climate change. “We don’t know what we will call it yet but it will consist of four members at large, plus two county-appointed members, myself and the director.”

Estell Manor in Atlantic County has already approached the commission to allow a cluster array on 5 to 10 aces in the forest area, but because there are no regulations allowing it, it has been put off. According to the informal discussion, the land in question was already permitted for residential use and would have been clear-cut anyway. These are the types of issues the subcommittee would address.

Another issue on the horizon comes from Cape May. The Cape May waste facility has been trucking leachate (water drained from its abandoned municipal dump) but the amount has increased significantly due to rain. They would like to build a pipe to the wastewater facility that treats the leachate but the issue then is where will the pipe transverse the Pinelands.

Stay tuned.

Pat Johnson





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