A Case of Bad Timing – Sprawl Report Sure To Stoke Backlash
The conventional wisdom – andÂ codeÂ words – for today’s page oneÂ story “Rowan, Rutgers study says N.J. is running out of open space, renews urban sprawl debate” is that:
the report has renewed the volatile sprawl debates in the state
So we thought we’d give readers a sense of the volatility.
We are much indebted to those braveÂ academicsÂ at RutgersÂ andÂ Rowan. They do fine technical work on land use/land cover and GeographicÂ InformationÂ Systems (GIS) map depiction of that data. But their sense of timing is less than impeccable.
In fact, over 3 years ago, we released veryÂ similarÂ data from RutgersÂ andÂ Rowan researchers (see below). And for years prior to that, we testified at numerous legislative hearings and DEPÂ regulatoryÂ proceedings to inject that work to support stronger land useÂ andÂ water resource protection laws, policies, and regulations.
Those efforts fell on deaf ears in the press, the legislature,Â andÂ over at DEP.
The academicsÂ andÂ planners atÂ places like NJ FutureÂ generallyÂ were nowhere to be found – unless they were supporting even more growth andÂ underminingÂ DEPÂ environmental, infrastructure (waterÂ andÂ sewer)Â andÂ land useÂ regulations.
We note that the academics were extremelyÂ reluctantÂ to discussÂ theirÂ work (one reason why we chose to release it), or educateÂ theÂ public about the implications of their data, or engage the “volatile” policy debate. Of course, that abdication unwittingly undermined our efforts.
So, a significant part of the problem is that those sameÂ academicsÂ have sat on the sidelines for two decades as the sprawl boom consumed the NJ landscape.
But now, those same academics take a high profile in releasing land use/land cover data – but, as they say, the horse has been galloping out of the barn for years.
Worse, given the economic recession and the policy agenda ofÂ theÂ ChristieÂ Administration with respect to environmental regulations (i.e. “Red Tape”), DEP (i.e. “aÂ barrierÂ toÂ economicÂ development”), and the Highlands Act (i.e. “needs to be repealed”), that data can only feed the backlash.
And kicking the builders when they are down is only going to help those rollback efforts.
In this context, this report can only lead to attacks on land preservation and environmental regulation as the cause of the collapse of the housing industry.
The KHov spinsmeister already laid down that line in today’sÂ story, i.e. (paraphrasing) “we’ve gotÂ plentyÂ of land, it just that too much is preserved. We better stop that and rollback preservation, the Highlands, andÂ landÂ useÂ regulationsÂ at DEP toÂ stimulateÂ the marketÂ andÂ create jobs”.
This Big Lie issue framing has been building for months – it hasÂ tremendousÂ momentum, has been accepted as the dominant narrative by the media, and has gone virtuallyÂ unchallenged by the disorganized and cluelessÂ environmentalÂ community.
Hold on to your hats, you are about to experience some of that unspecified “volatility” – see below.
For Immediate Release: April 16, 2007
Contact: Bill Wolfe (609) 397-4861; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
WHEN IT RAINSâ€¦IT FLOODS â€” New Jersey Continues to Lose War on Sprawl New Figures Show
Trenton â€” Amidst a backdrop of another day of major statewide flooding, the latest study shows that New Jersey, already the nationâ€™s most densely populated state, continues to lose farmland, forests and open space to development, according to figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This rampant and accelerating loss of land comes despite state officialsâ€™ claims that they are â€œwinning the war on sprawlâ€ and the â€œrace for open space.â€
Due to the flooding, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection DEP) abruptly cancelled a briefing today on the most recent data on land use/land cover from a Rutgers/Rowan University Study. Based on aerial photographs taken between 1995 and 2002, the study shows New Jersey suffered a rapid rate of urban development and loss of open space:
- Urban Development Rate. From 1995-2002, urban development spread over another 105,988 acres of New Jerseyâ€™s landscape. The annual rate of urban development statewide during that period was 15,140 acres per year. This represents an increase in the rate of development from the 1986 to 1995 period rate of 14,886 acres per year;
- Loss of Open Space. The majority of open space loss was farmland (55,530 net acres lost); and
- Hotspots for forest, farmland, and wetlands losses. The study shows a significant increase in the conversion of forest land since the previous period. The major hotspots of upland forest loss (more than 500 acres per year) include the coastal counties of Atlantic, Monmouth and Ocean, where the annual rates of forest loss have all significantly increased (+58%, +82%, and +59%, respectively) and Morris county (north central Jersey) which lost approximately 741 acres per year. Wetlands loss followed a largely similar pattern to the areas of rapid development, with coastal and central counties experiencing the greatest loss.
â€œThis data shows that what we are doing is not working,â€ stated New Jersey PEER Director, Bill Wolfe, referring to DEP touting the combination of the State Development and Redevelopment Plan, strict environmental regulation, the Highlands Act, and the Green Acres/Farmland Preservation land acquisition programs. â€œThese alarming findings validate the views of my esteemed colleague, Bill Neil, former Audubon Society Conservation Director, who called the State Plan the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the people of New Jersey.â€
The continued loss of wetlands, forests and farmlands aggravates the effect of storm surges and storm-related flooding. In addition, it negatively affects watershed protection, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, recreation, and other important values.
DEP has been delaying the adoption of long-promised new regulations to strictly regulate development, protect threatened and endangered species habitat, impose stream buffers, and prohibit extension of water, sewer and septic system infrastructure to all remaining environmentally sensitive lands.
â€œState officials need to get serious about preserving whatâ€™s left of our rapidly vanishing landscape before the bulldozers pave what is left,â€ Wolfe concluded.
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability.