Home > Uncategorized > D&R Canal Commission Rejects DEP Bull’s Island Tree Cut Plan

D&R Canal Commission Rejects DEP Bull’s Island Tree Cut Plan

DEP Threat to Close Park Put a Gun to Commission’s Head

DEP plan called “The epitome of the nanny state”

Lack of public participation & DEP Strong Arm Tactics Contribute to Embarrassing Defeat

“People do not need a safe corridor to walk through the woods.” ~~~  Bill Wolfe, Hunterdon County Democrat

NO CONSTRUCTION SHALL BEGIN UNTIL A CERTIFICATE OF APPROVAL HAS BEEN ISSUED.  ~~~ D&R Canal Commission to DEP

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin – his initial over-reaction and clear cut plan began the problem. He was embarrassed today.

[Update 12/20/13Hunterdon County Democrat story: DEP plan to remove trees on Bull’s Island rejected end update]

 In a stunning move this afternoon, after more than 2 hours of a DEP presentation, public comments, questions, attempts to negotiate with DEP, and deliberation among themselves  the D&R Canal Commission rejected the DEP’s proposed plan to cut 80-90 trees on Bull’s Island State Park to create a “safe, managed, pedestrian pathway”.

(The Hunterdon County Democrat wrote an excellent set up story:  Eighty ‘old growth’ sycamores targeted for removal at Bull’s Island in wake of camper’s death).

Voting to kill the plan were Robert M. Bostock, Chairman, Mary Allessio Leck, Phillip Lubitz and Bruce D. Stout.

Thank you Commissioners !!!!!

Thank you to all the people who came out today and reached out to the Commissioners to oppose the DEP plan!!

Even those Commissioners who voted in favor of the plan had serious concerns about it and wanted to see significant changes in the number of trees cut and the restoration plan.

The majority of Commissioners questioned DEP’s “risk tolerance” and preferred to simply warn the public about potential hazards from falling trees, not cut any trees, and open the park to passive recreation.

DEP simply flat out rejected that approach, claiming that hazardous trees and liability required trees to be cut.

In contrast to strong opposition to tree cutting, there was consensus on the Commission regarding support for several aspects of the DEP plan, including closing the island to camping, removing infrastructure, and designating the Central and northern portion of the island as a Natural Area.

The plan was strongly opposed by about a dozen residents, the only support coming, ironically, from Emile DeVito PhD of NJ Conservation Foundation who viewed the plan as a means to secure DEP’s commitment to a Natural Area designation for the northern portion of the island.

I was very impressed by and applaud the Commissioners, not just for the outcome of the vote, but by the way they conducted themselves. They all carefully scrutinized the DEP plan, asked DEP tough questions, and listened to public criticism. They deliberated openly and were flexible in seeking a compromise with DEP, but were firm and stood by their convictions in a brave vote.

The Commissioners all were appointed by Governor Christie, so it took courage and a strong sense of independence to reject Gov. Christie’s DEP Commissioner’s plan.  Such courage is rare – and let’s hope it spreads south to the Pinelands Commission!

Frankly, I was very surprised by the outcome of the vote and the quality of the Commissioners. I want to apologize for any inference that may have been created when I criticized Gov. Christie’s wholesale replacement of the members of the prior Commission.

DEP officials did a bad job in defending a bad plan.

DEP’s overt threat and inflexible approach to negotiating with the Commission doomed their efforts. DEP failed to listen and respond to  the Commission’s and the public’s concerns – the Commissioners were willing to provide DEP multiple opportunities to avoid a vote, requested that DEP allow for adequate public participation, and to come back with a better plan that incorporated valid concerns raised by comments.

DEP took a “my way or the highway” approach, threatening that if the Commission did not approve the DEP plan today, then they would close the park to public access for the entire 2014 year (again).

Several Commissioners took strong exception to that “threat”.

Rich Boornazian, DEP Assistant Commissioner for Natural Resources – a real estate man with no environmental training or government experience

DEP Assistant Commissioner Boornazian, frankly, was an embarrassment and did an incredibly poor job responding to public and Commissioners concerns.

At one point he blurted out (this is a quote):

It would have been nice if Sandy just knocked them (the trees on Bulls Island) all down.

State Forester Lynn Fleming presented the DEP plan – she was somewhat condescending and clownish and also could not respond to several inconsistencies, contradictions and flaws the Commissioners and the public pointed out.

And DEP Commissioner Martin’s representative on the Commission, Mark Texel Director of Parks, went off on a rant in defending the DEP threat to close the park, at one point describing trees as “multi-ton fatal weapons” (verbatim quote).

(Maybe Commissioner Martin could send this team down to the Pinelands to threaten those Commissioners too – that might swing the vote for us!)

DEP’s plan was estimated to cost $352,000,  71 % for tree removal ($250,000).

I love Bull’s Islands and visit often. Having been involved in trying to stop the DEP’s poor judgements for more than 2 years now, I am extremely pleased with today’s outcome.

Next steps

1) DEP re-open the park,with warning signs posted at entrance points to the northern portion of the island;

2) DEP form a Bull’s Island park planning group to develop an alternative plan over the next 120 days;

3) that plan should include afforestation of the central portion of the island that previously was the campground; elimination of camping; removal of infrastructure; and creation of a loop trail;  and

4) DEP should form a Bull’s Island Natural Areas designation work group, headed by Emile DeVito, NJCF, who volunteered today to do that work.

Target deadline for all this is July 1.

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