DEP Defends Lies and Violations of Reforestry Requirements
[Update 3: 4/10/11 - The AC Press is staying on this story, today's coverage: Mayors say parkway tree cutting hurts towns through noise, erosion, decreased property values
I almost spewed my coffee when I read this quote from those tree loving realtors:
Drew Fishman, an agent with ReMax Atlantic and a former president of the New Jersey Association of Realtors, said there is no question that the tree removal will affect property values.
"When people are looking at a home close to the road, they look for a buffer, and that buffer can absolutely impact home value," Fishman said. "Just how much of an effect the loss of that buffer will have is also dependent on other factors like the value of the neighborhood. It can also lead to a lot of people wanting to leave an area, which also affects total value in a neighborhood."
And the Turnpike Authority surely must know that tree removal dramatically increases runoff, which makes this a big fat lie:
Turnpike Authority spokesman Tom Feeney said any conversation about property values has to take into account the "economic and safety benefits the shore counties will enjoy as a result of the work."
Feeney said the agency believes any concerns about runoff are unfounded because the tree stumps and underbrush that remain will prevent it. Other concerns about aesthetics must be balanced against the need for the project, he said.
Update 2: 3/30/11 - scathing AC Press editorial: "So Now We Know"
This $6 million tree-cutting project is a debacle. The parkway is aesthetically marred. What was lovely greenery is now a virtual moonscape. Meanwhile, the natural sound barrier between nearby homes and the highway is gone. And so are the positive environmental effects of trees, including flood prevention and wildlife habitat.
But I'm not sure we really do know. The Turnpike Authority is quoted that DEP knew for years about the project and that there was extensive correspondence:
There are letters between the Turnpike Authority and the DEP going back several years in which the Turnpike Authority describes the tree removal on the Parkway as part of the widening project.
How could DEP let this happen? That's what I want to know.
Update 1: 3/30/11 - As a result of the great work of the AC Press, Senator Van Drew jumps inot the fray - good for him: State Sen. Jeff Van Drew wants parkway operator to explain discrepancy in reasons given for tree clearing
But when reached by phone on Tuesday, Van Drew said that more of an explanation is needed.
"I have been dealing with this situation for a while, before the article came out, and I was told in great detail by the head engineer that this was something being done solely to protect drivers. And I could understand if it was just a matter of cutting a few trees and branches back, but this looks like a logging operation." If you were to fly overhead, it looks like we were strip mining" said Van Drew, adding the clear cutting of entire sections of median now could actually put drivers at risk of head-on collisions. â€œAnd what if the money never becomes available for the widening? What was this all for? I think they're spending tax dollars to do this clearing and make the Parkway less desirable.
"We need a clear and thorough explanation of why this project was repeatedly misrepresented and then we need to make it right, or at least make sure it doesn' happen again." (end update)]
If a slimy Teabagger surreptitiously video-taped a public Authority worker lying about his lunch hour or using a state vehicle for personal reasons, we all know the drill:
the right wing Magic Wurlizter Echo chamber would spring into action
Governor Christie would do his Town Hall YouTube attack dog routine, bemoaning lazy workers, greedy unions, and unaccountable public Authorities
Democrats and liberals would cower in fear and sit back in silence, or join the mob (Worse, some craven weaklings may act pre-emptively upon the first indication of potential attackÂ under a “damage control” mentality)
a good public servant would be forced to resign, have career destroyed, and/or be smeared
So, what happens when real journalists at the Atlantic City Press document massive environmental abuse, serious violations of DEP regulations, and blatent lies by NJ Turnpike Authority managers?
Where is our Governor? Crickets.
Where is DEP enforcement? AWOL.
Can you imagine the DEP enforcement response if a small home builder cut down hundreds of acres of trees at the edge of wetlands and the environmentally sensitive Pinelands, failed to obtain DEP approvals, and was caught knowingly lying about it to DEP?
Yesterday’s superb Atlantic City Press story Tree clearing along Garden State Parkway is also part of highway widening efforts, records show tells exactly that story.
The AC Press documents massive environmental abuse, unaccountable arrogance, violations of DEP requirements, and lies.
After publicly claiming that the massive tree-clearing along 34 miles of the Garden State Parkway has nothing to do with that roadway’s $900 million widening project, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority has admitted the projects go hand in hand but that it still hopes to avoid replacing the felled trees.
The contract for the tree-clearing project, obtained by The Press of Atlantic City through the Open Public Records Act, describes the work as “advanced clearing for the Garden State Parkway Widening Milepost 30 to 64.” and is referred to as such throughout the document.
Veronique Hakim, executive director of the Turnpike Authority, which maintains the 172-mile toll road, confirmed that the tree-clearing is being done in advance of a third lane being added in both directions between Atlantic and Ocean counties, a prime growth area. Hakim said the Turnpike Authority does not have enough funds to proceed with the next phase of the road project but that the tree-clearing is being done to enable the project to move forward once the funds are available.
The state’s No Net Loss Reforestation Act requires a tree be replanted for every one felled during a construction project that is more than a half-acre in size, such as the Parkway widening. As an alternative to planting a tree, a builder also may put money in a fund devoted to buying and planting trees. ….
In recent months, the Turnpike Authority has repeatedly said the clearing is not part of the $900 million parkway widening project that, when completed, will widen the roadway between mileposts 80 in Toms River and 30 in Somers Point, but rather a maintenance program designed to keep drivers safe and the roadway clear of debris. …
A tree for a tree
Environmentalists are accusing the Turnpike Authority of attempting to circumvent the reforestation act to save money.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, said he believes the parkway’s operators are trying to avoid the state’s requirement that trees felled for construction projects be replaced on a one-for-one basis. Tittel and other environmentalists say the authority is playing word games with the tree-cutting project by calling parts of it “routine maintenance” and other parts “firebreaks.” If the tree-cutting is classified as something other than a widening project, the authority could legally avoid replacing trees or could be forced to pay less for the trees removed.
“This is not a maintenance project to remove a couple of dead trees,” Tittel said. “This is a clear-cutting of a 30-mile stretch of the parkway”
So, what is DEP’s response? Do they highlight the ecological significance, condemn the violation, and issue swift and stiff multi-million dollar fines?
Nope, they defend the Turnpike Authority, as a “sister agency” – despite the fact that “it still hopes to avoid replacing the felled trees.”
That’s right – at the highest levels, DEP Deputy Commissioner Kropp – someone known to practice the black bureacratic arts of spin and lies herself - sympathizes with her “sister agency“.
Illustrating the same lack of management diligence and lax regulatory oversight she exercised that led to the demise of the DEP Site Remediation Program, Kropp looked the other way and made excuses:
The authority has submitted a plan to the state Department of Environmental Protection to mitigate the loss of wetlands and trees, although it did so only after the clearing work had begun, a breach of etiquette if not of the regulatory process.
“Admittedly, this is kind of putting the cart in front of the horse. The (tree removal) probably shouldn’t have started until a plan was in place. But we will hold them to the exact same standards as we would have if the plan was in place since day one” DEP Deputy Commissioner Irene Kropp said….
On March 17, Kropp told The Press that the Turnpike Authority submitted a reforestation or payment plan in February for the section of the project that stretches between mileposts 30 and 64.5, but that the plan still had not been reviewed at that time.
Kropp said she did not think a sister agency, such as the Turnpike Authority, would attempt to circumvent its responsibilities. But she said the no-net-loss requirements can be unclear, which could be why there is so much debate over the Turnpike Authority’s obligation.
Apologetics for massive environmental assaults is the New Normal at the Christie DEP.
And in the “What was he thinking” warped views category, NJ Audubon actually supports the Turnpike Authority clearcut:
Pete Dunne, chief communications officer for the New Jersey Audubon Society, said there are some positives that could come from the clearing.
“This is probably a give-and-take for the environment” Dunne said. “Millions of birds are killed by automobiles every year. “ Trimming the vegetation back from along the highway will probably reduce the number of bird strikes.”
When so called environmentalists defend highway clearcuts and violations of DEP wetlands and reforestry requirements,Â yes, we have lost our way.