Land Near Lakehurst Runway Will Be Protected

A 1,800 acre parcel of land just off the end of the runway in New Jersey’s largest military base will be protected, The Trust for Public Land, a national conservation organization, announced today. The land includes the headwaters of the Toms River.

The property is east of the runway at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB MDL) in the central part of the state. A total of 387 acres will be purchased by Ocean County, while a conservation easement will be bought on an adjoining 1,415 acres. The easement will mean the land, which now houses a gravel mining operation, will not be developed for homes.

“This is a win for everyone,” said Anthony Cucchi, New Jersey Director of The Trust for Public Land. “It helps protect the water flowing into Barnegat Bay, which is a major goal of Ocean County and the State of New Jersey, and it helps the military base protect land around its runway from residential development.”

“The Defense Department has used DoD funds for 16 earlier projects at this joint base, but Long Brook is the first property protected with a non-governmental organization such as TPL. Using partners such as TPL and Ocean County allows us to protect more land by stretching our dollars. And protecting land next to the runway is important because training flights for jets and helicopters have increased flight operations four fold in recent years,” said Dennis Blazak, the Community Planning and Liaison Officer for the base.

“This joint base is important to New Jersey’s state economy, with a total impact of $6.9 billion in 2010,” Blazak said. “In addition to increasing the base’s sustainability, protecting the Long Brook tract from development will improve water quality throughout the watershed and JB MDL remains committed to improving water quality from the banks of the Delaware River to the shores of Barnegat Bay.””

The purchase will cost $7.5 million, including $3 million from the Pentagon’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI); $3.375 million from the Ocean County Open Space Trust Fund; and $1.125 million from the Pinelands Conservation Fund.

The land and easement were purchased from the Clayton family, which has owned the land for at least four decades, and which runs the sand and gravel mine on part of the property.

Freeholder Deputy Director John C. Bartlett Jr., the liaison to the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund program, said the complex acquisition has a number of benefits to Ocean County.

“The land provides a connection between Patriot’s County Park and another 380 acres previously acquired through the County Natural Lands Trust Program,” Bartlett said. “The property contains a diverse landscape with several lakes and almost a mile long segment of the Long Brook Branch of the Toms River. This partnership helps us protect and preserve our waterways and environmentally sensitive areas.”

Freeholder John P. Kelly, Director of Law and Public Safety, said that the entire 1,800 acre Clayton Sand Mining Property was a significant acquisition for Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

“The property was identified as a high priority acquisition in the Joint Land Use Study completed by Ocean County in 2009,” Kelly said. The study was funded by the Defense Department to identify potential encroachments and enhance compatibility between the base and local communities.

“The Clayton acquisition removes a major encroachment threat to the Joint Base and enhances Ocean County’s long term economic development viability,” Kelly said. “Ocean County has made a commitment to the base to make certain it remains an integral part of our Homeland Security. This acquisition highlights that pledge.”

The New Jersey Pinelands Commission provided $1.125 million from its Pinelands Conservation Fund toward the purchase of a 387-acre portion of the property, which will preclude the potential to build as many as 55 homes and prohibit mining onsite.

“Permanent land protection is a vital part of our mission to preserve the Pinelands and its tremendous natural resources,”” said Mark S. Lohbauer, the Commission’s Chairman. “”The permanent preservation of this property will enhance the protection of the Toms River Corridor, an area that features extensive forests, wetlands and habitat for threatened and endangered species, while also eliminating the possibility of conflicting land uses.”

The Pinelands Conservation Fund was created in 2004 as part of an agreement with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to permit the construction and upgrade of an electric transmission line through eastern portions of the Pinelands. Under the agreement, the special fund was established to further the Pinelands protection program and ensure a greater level of protection of the unique resources of the Pinelands Area. The utility that built the transmission lines, Atlantic City Electric (formerly Conectiv), provided $13 million to establish the Fund. The Fund has been increased with additional money from other agreements. The Commission hired Conservation Resources Inc. of Chester, N.J., to assist in the land acquisition element of the Fund and to identify land preservation projects. To date, the Commission has approved the allocation of $8.6 million to 30 projects in the Pinelands Area. Of these 30 projects, 27 have proceeded to closing, resulting in the permanent protection of 3,707 acres of environmentally sensitive land.

The Trust for Public Land was created in 1972 and is the nation’s leader in creating local funds for conservation and building parks in cities around the nation. TPL has protected more than 3 million acres, and depends on the support of individuals, foundations, and corporations.