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Gov. Christie Cans Pinelands Commission Chairman

Replacement of Chairman Lohbauer with Republican Hack Is The Latest Retribution

Another Attack on Pines

The Pinelands Commission appointments are becoming an extended montage from Goodfellas – you don’t know who is going to get hit next. ~~~ Doug O’Malley, Environment NJ

I went to the Pinelands Commission’s meeting this morning expecting to listen to a staff briefing on climate change.

Mark Lohbauer, former Chairman, Pinelands Commission

Mark Lohbauer, former Chairman, Pinelands Commission

Instead, I got blind-sided by Chairman Lohbauer’s announcement that Gov. Christie’s Office called him last night and told him he was being replaced by Commissioner Earlen (he is Burlington County’s representative – read Burlington County Times story and this for a flavor of county issues with Mr. Earlen’s County Freeholder appointment. *And the Asbury Park Press story and the Philadelphia Inquirer story.]

Lohbauer had the integrity to defy the Gov. and vote to oppose the South Jersey Gas pipeline – leadership that I’m certain influenced NO votes from other Commissioners – and the independence to buck the Governor on a host of other issues. He even had the temerity to write an Op-Ed – twice! -proudly defending his pipeline NO vote and upholding the integrity of the CMP (see this and this).

Earlen voted in favor of the pipeline and has played a passive role at the Commission, rarely making any public comment. His background is in construction and development, so bright red flags are raised, even without the obvious Gov. Christie reprisals. Take a look at his employer’s website, where Earlen serves as Vice President for Real Estate, Environmental and Public Affairs – is this compatible with the mission of the Pinelands Commission?


Lohbauer always provided plenty of opportunity to allow the public to speak and he treated people with respect and listened to their concerns – this is the opposite set of values than the arrogant authoritarians who populate the Christie administration.

Perhaps Lohbauer’s support for addressing climate change was the last straw that sealed his fate. Or it could have been his remarks that were critical of Christie’s pawn ED Wittenberg or the Gov. Conditional Veto of the soccer fields bill.

Add Lohbauer to Christie’s long and growing hit list of Pinelands Commissioners Jackson, and Commissioner Ficcaglia and Commissioner Lloyd. (that doesn’t count similar Christie attacks on those who have integrity and independence, including Highlands Council Director Swan – and Legal Counsel Tom Borden, who resigned in protest).

It’s not even technically official yet – Earlen was not yet sworn in – but its been posted prominently on the Commission’s website (ED Wittenberg probably wrote it herself in glee).

Mudder fuckers

To make matters worse, instead of a briefing on climate change – which I warned was being derailed behind the scenes by Executive Director Wittenberg – the Commission was besieged by the off road motorized recreational community, commonly derogatorily referred to as the “mudders”.

For a brief look at that destruction, from the website Pine Barens Under Siege: (additional photos forthcoming):

pins under seige

Substantively, the “mudders” don’t have a leg to stand on scientifically or politically – not many people would support monster trucks doing donuts in sensitive vernal meadows, wetlands and stream channels.

But bureaucratic incompetence and arrogance by the Pinelands preservation advocates has surrendered the reasonable policy high ground.

The Christie DEP gave the mudder faction 2 strong legs to stand on by totally mismanaging the DEP’s Motorized Access Plan (MAP) to restrict off road access and close certain roads.

Making similar mistakes, Pinelands conservationists – by working covertly behind the scenes with DEP in developing the MAP before it was publicly vetted in DEP’s flawed “Stakeholder” process – gave the mudders a rope to hang DEP and themselves with.

Those mistakes have not only forced DEP to retreat and discredited the MAP initiative, they have generated a huge backlash and empowered mudders and a supporting group of more responsible motorized allies.

The DEP retreat has emboldened the mudders and made a growing problem even worse.

COAH – Huge Affordable Housing Conflicts With CMP

After the Christie attack and onslaught of the mudders, we were then treated to a briefing on how affordable housing litigation could overwhelm the Pinelands with far more housing units and density than allowed under the Comprehesive Management Plan and approved local zoning scheme.

Staff presented a crude analysis of COAH obligations under various analyses now before the courts and how those numbers on affordable housing obligations would impact certain Pinelands Towns under CMP requirements.

Despite appeals from Commissioner Lloyd and public commenters – including myself who recommended filing a amicus -,the Commission seemed very reluctant to get out in front of the COAH freight-train. The best they could even imagine was to try to write a letter to someone laying out their concerns about threats to the CMP.

Hello! Don’t just stand there, DO SOMETHING!

Not Much Work Getting Done – Other Than Rubber Stamping Pipelines

On top of all that bad news, staff presented the current status of implementing all the recommendations of the Plan Review Report

 The takeaway message of that staff briefing is that the Commission has done virtually nothing to advance the recommendations, and Gov. Christie must approve any CMP amendments anyway so there’s not much use in trying. The refrain:

Next Steps: Resubmit proposal to Governor’s office.

Perhaps the Pinelands lawyers can tell me where the law says that all CMP amendment rule proposals must be submitted to and approved by the Governor’s Office before NJ Register proposal – just where is that requirement in the Pinelands Act or the Administrative Procedures Act?

My understanding is that the Gov. has power to veto the minutes – that is very different than a power to approve rules before they are released for public view or proposed in the NJ Register.

I was particularly disgusted with the runaway from the commitment to adopt CMP amendments to implement the ecologically based water allocation restrictions known as the Kirkwood-Cohansey project.

It was perhaps the worst day in Pinelands history – the only thing that can put some brakes on this runaway train is either litigation, direct action protests, or the federal government.

Each of these issues require an individual post, which I hope to get to in the coming days.

I just had to vent at this point. And, just to turn your stomach further, take one more look at the new Chairman of the Pinelands Commission’s career thang:


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