Archive for January, 2012

Forest “Harvest” and State Land Value Bills Heard Today

January 30th, 2012 No comments
Cushetunk Mountain - Round Valley

Cairn Tree - Cushetunk Mountain - Round Valley

[Update 1/31/12 – Tom Johnson NJ Spotlight writes the story: Trying to Set a Fair Price for Private Use of Public Lands – Conservationists dismiss DEP’s flat fee as far too low

Environmentalists questioned whether the state would still be undervaluing land if the proposed 15 cents per square foot is adopted by the administration.

Bill Wolfe, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, suggested a much higher benchmark of $1.25 per square foot for leasing of open lands. He noted that two utilities trying to expand a high-voltage power line through the Delaware Water National Recreation Area recently offered to spend $30 million to buy up open space around that project. Under his calculations, Wolfe said that comes out to about $13 per square foot. end]

The Senate Environment Committee heard 2 important bills today regarding state lands.

Commercial Logging on State Lands – Forest Stewardship (S1085)

Committee Chairman Bob Smith, sponsor of the hugely controversial commercial logging bill that failed in last session’s lame duck, reintroduced that bill (S1085).

To restart the legislative process this session, today he posed a narrow question to focus testimony:

Smith asked each person testifying to stick to the question: “What is the state of the state’s forests”.

Seeming like he was pissed off by the blindsided criticism he received on his lame duck bill, Smith asked the various conservation groups to get together and provide a unified position in support of the bill, or provide an alternative solution. Revealing his frustration, Smith said:

I’m not meeting with you – meet amongst yourselves.

Smith will move a bill on March 8 – he asked for public comments by March 1.

So, now is the time to provide input:

Contact info: Be sure to copy Committee aid Kevil Duhon at

You can listen to the testimony by clicking on this link. (scroll down to Environment Cmte).

I testified that the state of the forests were an integral part of the quality of life of the people of the state. Forests are public resources that provide competing benefits for public use and enjoyment and any attempt to manage them raises conflicting ecological objectives.

Given these competing uses and conflicts, public control is essential.

Legislation must assure that “perverse incentives” are eliminated from driving the forest management program. Those perverse incentives include revenues for commercial foresters and fees for DEP managers, which will lead to economic considerations being elevated above the public interest and forest ecology.

Forests are in decline, threatened, and vulnerable to threats posed by global warming, over-development, fragmentation, the narrow views of scientists and “experts”, and misguided government officials and corporations who views forests as commodities.

Public preferences, including aesthetic enjoyment, must be given equal consideration with science in any forest management initiative.

Economic Value of State lands  – S826

This bill grew out of the debacle over the Tennessee Gas Pipeline lease.

I wrote about this set of issues numerous times:

According to the bill summary:

  1. This bill would provide that, when determining the value of
  2. lands based upon their intended use upon conveyance, the revenue
  3. generation potential of the land, i.e., how much revenue would be
  4. generated from the land if the sale, exchange, lease, easement,
  5. right-of-way, or other similar property interest is granted, would be
  6. required to be taken into consideration and calculated as part of the
  7. value of the land, and this amount would be the minimum value that
  8. may be accepted by the State in exchange for the conveyance of the
  9. lands, with one exception.

The bill is a very good idea to force corporations to pay the taxpayers the full economic value of leasing the public lands.

The bill needs to be amended as follows:

  • The bill only applies to new conveyances of lands. The bill must be expanded – as recommended by 3 OLS AUdits – to require that current leases be renegotiated to reflect fair market value
  • The bill should set a minimum floor prices far in excess of the DEP’s uniform ceiling price of 15 cents per square foot, which is far too low. The range of market values runs from $1.25.square foot set by the NJ Turnpike Authority for fiber optic cables in the Turnpike ROW to $13 per square foot recently offered as mitigation by PSEG for the powerline through the Delaware Water Gap (S-R line calls for a 50-200 ft ROW expansion, assume 100 ft average width, over 4.3 linear miles)

$ 30 million/(4.3 linear miles) x (5280 ft./mile) x (100 feet ROW) = $13.21/sq. ft

  • prohibit Utilities from passing though costs and recovery by ratepayers
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The Mendacity of the Mitigation Manipulators

January 29th, 2012 No comments

Powerline Through the Watergap Would Be an “Obamanation”

"The Judas Kiss" (1866) by Gustave Doré.

“The Judas Kiss” (1866) by Gustave Doré.

Here’s four cogent quotes on the proposed $30 million mitigation proposal by power companies to justify destruction of core values of Delaware Watergap National Recreation Area; the Appalachian National Scenic Trail; and the Wild and Scenic Delaware River:

“It is not the role of the National Park Service to negotiate mitigation at this stage of the process, before any decision is made.” ~~~ John Donahue, NPS, Supervisor of DWGNRA; Pam Underhill, Supervisor, ANST – June 27, 2011 letter to PPL Electric Utility

“Creating jobs is my highest priority as President, and investing in our nation’s infrastructure can help create those jobs and grow our economy” said President Obama. “That’s why I’m asking agencies across the federal government to identify infrastructure projects that will put folks back to work and help make our country stronger, and take immediate steps to push these projects across the finish line.” White House Announces Steps to Expedite High Impact Infrastructure Projects to Create Jobs (8/31/11)

Bill Wolfe of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility called the utilities’ recently announced offer to buy and preserve $30 million in nearby lands as “mitigation” for the power lines a test of the National Park Service’s integrity. “It’s an offense to the public process,” Wolfe said. ~~~ Pocono Record 1/25/12

To mitigate the loss, the utilities behind the line – PSE&G and PPL – last week announced an offer of land worth $30 million for public preservation. The” thousands of acres of land” has been identified as priorities by conservation groups, according to Karen Johnson, a PSE&G spokeswoman. ~~~ Morris Daily Record 1/26/12

I generally steer well clear of religious matters, having never really shaken off youthful Catholic indoctrination.

But certain projects force gut checks. And this particular set of circumstances rises to and justifiably moves me to invoke religious metaphor.

I listened closely to the testimony at the public hearings on the S-R line through the Watergap.

I was not surprised or bothered when PSE&G’s corporate flacks supported the S-R power line, downplayed the impacts, and claimed that “mitigation” can offset any unavoidable harms.

That is to be expected: PSEG earns a significant share of their profits on transmission investments (a higher ROI that any other investment).

PSE&G is a corporation whose first duty is to maximize profits and shareholder value. Of course they would love to use $30 million of ratepayers’ money to leverage even higher profits – press statements to the contrary, screw the consequences.

And I was not surprised when labor unions and workers supported a power line, because we’re in a deep recession and the unemployment rate is almost at Depression levels. They have families to support, need jobs, and are being duped by their leadership.

And I am not even surprised when government agencies, like the Highlands Council, compromise their mission and integrity and take mitigation bribes in exchange for approvals.

On any economically significant decision, the political pressure is incredible. On these high profile projects, government agencies become mere pawns of political hacks, corporate interests, and the careerists who manage them who will do what they are told.

And of course, I was not surprised by President Obama’s

Obama never betrayed me – I never trusted him or expected much.

One thing’s for sure: if a Republican President were doing what Obama is, the Beltway ENGO’s would be in a tizzy and activists groups would be in the streets.

But what I am absolutely shocked, disgusted and feel betrayed by is when publicly trusted self described “conservation” advocates – with an economic stake in mitigation projects no less – shamelessly publicly undermine project opponents and support mitigation.

If expert “conservationists” can’t speak truth to power and hold politicians accountable, how is it possible for the public to democratically do so?

Given President Obama’s support for expediting the approval of this project – and political commitments by Secretary of Interior Salazar that preceded Obama’s support – it is obvious that final decisions are being made in Washington DC based on money and politics, not science and the public interest.

With that so obvious right now, the conservation community needs to unify and do the same thing that Bill McKibben did on the Keystone XL Project: take the gloves off , protest, and target and hold the President accountable.

The last thing we need is for so called conservationists to be negotiating insider sweetheart mitigation deals with the power companies and providing cover for this sham deal.

But unity and in your face protest and political opposition won’t happen in this case.

And if it won’t happen on a power line through the Watergap, just when would it happen?

And it won’t happen NOT because of legitimate differences in tactics, style and tone within the conservation community. The conservation community is diverse, which is usually a strength.

(but those mild mannered conservationists somehow can abandon their moderate, reserved stance to exaggerate the impacts of windmills on birds – but ignore or downplay bird mortality caused by power lines. I even heard absurd testimony about opportunities to improve bird habitat in power line ROW. Why is that? Could it have anything to do with financial interests in mitigation and relationships with PSE&G?)

Projects of this magnitude and political profile warrant unity and aggressive political tactics.

But Unity and aggressive oppositional tactics won’t happen because some in the “conservation” community are tacitly supporting the project by corrupt means and for corrupt motives.

The corrupt means are behind the scenes negotiations with PSE&G/PPL on “mitigation” that Karen Johnson confirmed in the above quote (exactly which groups, Karen?).

John Donahue of NPS correctly describes how wrong that is.

And if its wrong for government, it’s absolutely evil for conservationists, who are supposed to be free of the kind of political influence government managers are subject to.

The corrupt motives stem from the fact that those groups will benefit from or even be funded to do some of the mitigation work.

Yet those conflicts of interest go undisclosed, undermining unity, providing political cover, misleading the public, and betraying all norms and expectations regarding integrity.

All that For Thirty Pieces of Silver?


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NJ Shuts Down River Herring Fishery

January 28th, 2012 2 comments

DEP Lacks Funds to Collect Data – Blame  Craven Fisherman Politics

(source: adbusters)

(source: adbusters)

Proponents of a saltwater fishing fee over the past several years had argued it was needed as a way to raise money for just such research, but the state decided instead to create a saltwater fishing registry with no fee. (AC Press 1/28/12)

Kirk Moore of the Asbury Park Press wrote a story back on April 1 that warned that the river herring fishery would be closed in 2012:

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin - refused to support salt water angler fee

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin - refused to support salt water angler fee

UPPER FREEHOLD — Beset by a crushing workload, decimated staff and years of inadequate funding, the state Bureau of Marine Fisheries is preparing a draft plan to identify what can be jettisoned from a program that serves a $2 billion industry in New Jersey … yet gets less than 1 percent of that from the state budget.

Already there’s a plan to suspend fishing for river herring in 2012 because state biologists won’t be able to fulfill legal requirements under the coastwide herring management plan, said marine bureau chief Brandon Muffley. It’s just one of 22 plans for various species that must be kept updated under interstate and federal rules.

“By default, if you can’t prove your fishery is sustainable, you’re out of compliance,” Muffley said. River herring are the first to be set aside because biologists “need to do one for each individual river system,” he said. …

That story prompted this screed here: Ocean Ecosystems, Fishermen, and Shore Economy Harmed by Craven Politics –

From an Administration that champions cost-benefit analysis, this is particularly ludicrous

Gov. Chris Christie

Gov. Chris Christie

Kirk Moore has a superb and what should be explosive story in today’s Asbury Park Press: Fisheries caught in budget’s tight net – Herring catch on hold, others may follow.

Moore’s story tells the sad tale of how the shortsighted ideology and craven politics of Governor Christie – catering to the irrresponsible selfish greed of some in NJ’s recreational fishing lobby -  are harming the science and management of coastal ecosystems and fisheries.

The fisheries story is just the latest example of backtracking on ocean ecosystems. [ …]

So, fishermen should ask Jimmy D. over at RFA why they are not allowed to catch more fish.

It’s because NJ lacks the data to support management decisions.

Next time fishermen complain about restrictive quotas, or catch sizes, or bag limits, they shouldn’t criticize the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) or the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council (ASMFC) or the DEP.

Just call Jimmy D at RFA.

Jimmy Donofrio, lobbyist, Recreational Fishing Alliance

Jimmy Donofrio, lobbyist, Recreational Fishing Alliance

You would think that warning would have resulted in some reasonable moderation of the selfish and shortsighted fishing group lobbyists – like RFA – and their craven legislative supporters to reach a compromise on the salt water registry funding issue.

But no.

Anti-government, anti-science, anti-regulatory, and anti-tax Ideology and selfish special interest group politics prevailed.

The folks who would like to starve the beast and make government small enough to drown in the bathtub won.

As a result, as predicted, in a huge embarrassment to the Christie Administration, NJ shut down the river herring fishery.

The Press of Atlantic City reports:

New Jersey bans the catch and sale of river herring after failing to provide adequate data

New Jersey has shut down its river herring fishery partly because it does not have the personnel or the funding to collect the data it needs.

That means fishermen who net the herring, mostly for the bait business, can no longer do so. Recreational anglers, including fly fishermen, no longer may target them. If an angler catches a river herring by accident, it now must be thrown back. …

State Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin closed the fishery in state waters Thursday, said Brandon Muffley, head of the state Bureau of Marine Fisheries.

Heck of a Job Chris Christie, Bob Martin, and Jimmy D.!!

[Endnote: Over at SL, my man George Hayduke III says:

The money is there – it’s the hiring freeze. CC will not let the DEP back fill the positions because having a government as small as it was when Chrisy Whitman was in office is a talking point. despite having the money and 10% unemployment.

[Update: While we are on the topic of fisheries management, here’s an extraordinary statement by the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, expressly distancing themselves from the Governor. I feel bad for Tom Fote:

Clarification on NJ ASMFC Vote on Menhaden

by Mark Taylor

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association)

I have spoken to many people who do not understand New Jersey’s vote on the menhaden addendum at the ASMFC meeting. I am writing this article to inform you that at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Menhaden Board, Tom Fote is not representing Jersey Coast Anglers Association (JCAA). He is there as the Governor’s Appointee to the ASMFC. He is at that board doing the work of the Governor. This means he represents the Governor and his votes reflect the Governor’s opinion. JCAA does not have a vote at ASMFC. Like every other individual and organization, JCAA makes its opinion known at public hearings and in written comments. JCAA’s testimony and written comments were clearly in support of the addendum. And that addendum was passed without New Jersey’s support. If you are unhappy with a vote by the Governor’s Appointee to ASMFC, you can certainly let him know you disagree. However, you need to make your opinions known directly to the Governor since he can direct his appointee to vote in a specific way on a specific issue.

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Ken Lockwood Gorge in Winter

January 28th, 2012 1 comment


Last Sunday (1/22/12), on a brilliant crisp morning I got out to Ken Lockwood Gorge. With snow scarce and gone after just two days, it was special. I walked the Gorge and returned on the Columbia Trail. Great loop. Some views:






from bridge just below Columbia trailhead

from bridge just below Columbia trailhead


view from Columbia trail heading back up the Gorge


on the Columbia Trail

on the Columbia Trail

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Watergap Powerline Hearing a Hoot

January 27th, 2012 No comments


It was a packed house last night in Andover for the third and final public hearing on the Susquehanna Roseland power line proposal through Delaware Watergap National Recreation Area and the Appalachian Trail corridor.

I testifed on Tuesday’s hearing – one of only 18. But last night, there was a huge line to signup for testimony (I was #63). The trade unions brought a lot of people, but there were far more park lovers and opponents in attendance.

The Public comment period closes on January 31, 2012, so be sure to get your cards and letters in. Here is the link to submit comments.

Don’t forget to mention that you support the preferred “No Build” alternative and that the proposed “mitigation” money is totally unacceptable in principle.

The Park, the AT, and the integrity of NEPA and the National Park Service are not for sale to the highest corporate bidder.


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