Wednesday, August 25, 2010

NJ budget switch spared forests, chopped trees

plant a tree

It’s been portrayed in the media as a parochial tiff over trees between three towns in Mercer County and the administration of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  But the mayors say it’s much more than that.

In agreeing to permit the state to widen the New Jersey Turnpike through their municipalities, the mayors say they expected the state to expend certain sums on the planting of trees for a buffer between the superhighway and residential neighborhoods.

Facing an enormous state budget shortfall, however, the Christie Administration pulled a switcheroo and used the funds instead to help keep state parks and forests open this summer, serving, as one spokesperson said, “the greater good.”   

In a scathingly delightful Op-Ed piece in today’s PolitickerNJ, the mayor of one of the Mercer towns says the ensuing fracas (which, not surprisingly, has wound up in court) it’s not just about trees.  It’s about trust.

Here’s a bit of what Robbinsville Mayor Dave Fried’s has to say :

As many of you know, last week Robbinsville, Hamilton and East Windsor took the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection to court to block a classic bait-and-switch: Enticing us to turn over land to widen the New Jersey Turnpike with promises of $15 million in reforestation funds, then shipping the money elsewhere after the bulldozing had begun.

We sued not because we wanted to; we sued because we had to. From the start, our willingness to cooperate with the Turnpike widening had everything to do with the trees. No reforestation, no deal. The fact that I now have to explain this to the Department of Environmental Protection is mind-boggling.

Had we not gone to court, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority would have transferred our funds to DEP under the No Net Loss Reforestation Act, but the monies promised to our three towns would have been used to run state parks. While Judge Linda Feinberg technically didn’t grant a request for an injunction, the effect is the same: According to the Turnpike, the money is staying put for 60 days. Absent a deal, we head to court Oct. 1.

DEP officials have tried to defend themselves by saying the Turnpike will replant some trees along the expanded highway, although the amount budgeted for the entire 35 miles appears to be less than would have gone just to our three communities.

Not only is the Turnpike planting clearly inadequate, it’s not even the point. Our lawsuit isn’t just about the trees and the buffer, although our first concern is the quality of life of those living closest to the expansion project. Our action is about ensuring that state government learns once and for all that when it deals with towns, promises must be kept. If we mayors are to represent our residents with any credibility, we must hold the State to its word. After this episode, what mayor in his right mind would ever sign an agreement with the State or the Turnpike?

Mayor Fried got in some good licks (see his entire piece here),  but we suspect there may be decent arguments to  be made on the flip side of the debate.  

What do you think?  Use the comment box below to let us know.  If you don’t see one, click on the headline at the top of this post and one should appear. 

Our most recent posts: 
Drought restrictions in New Jersey’s future? 
Why climate-change legislation went nowhere 
Did fear of protests cancel shale gas driller's conference? 
EPA to hold coal ash hearing in Pittsburgh 
Battling for the Bays--Barnegat and Rehoboth 

Like this post? You’ll love our daily newsletter
EnviroPolitics - Try it free for 30 days!
No obligation. Cancel anytime with a single click

Subscribe here to view all our YouTube videos

Repost this article