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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 12, 2004

Contact: Erin Phalon
(609) 984-1795

HIGHLANDS PRESERVATION MOVES FORWARD

Campbell Announces Acquisition of 290-Acre Lebanon Township Property

(04/92) TRENTON -- Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell today joined municipal, county, state and nonprofit representatives to announce the preservation of the 290-acre Pelio property in Lebanon Township, Hunterdon County and to highlight the significance of saving open space in New Jersey’s Highlands region.

The preservation of this property will create a contiguous preserved landmass of over 900 acres of parkland and farmland and protect the Category One-designated Spruce Run Stream.

The announcement comes just two days after Governor James E. McGreevey signed the historic Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act.

“Our commitment to New Jersey families is reflected in our open space preservation efforts, including my signing of the historic Highlands Act,” said Governor James E. McGreevey. “By preserving properties like the Pelio property, we help ensure all of New Jersey continues to have access to our most precious natural resource – clean drinking water.”

The DEP Green Acres Program preserved the $2.27 million property in partnership with the New Jersey Water Supply Authority, the County of Hunterdon, Lebanon Township, Hunterdon Land Trust Alliance and Washington Township Land Trust.

“These acquisitions demonstrate that Governor McGreevey’s commitment to protecting Highlands resources is shared at every level of government,” said Commissioner Campbell. “The expanded Green Acres funding that Governor McGreevey made available was vital to the preservation of this ecologically valuable property, and I congratulate the other parties involved for working together to protect Spruce Run’s water resources and nurture a grassland wildlife habitat.”

The Pelio site includes portions of both Hunterdon and Morris Counties. The property consists of 290 acres of fields, wetlands, ponds and woodlands and is adjacent to land previously preserved by both the Township of Lebanon and the County of Hunterdon.

“This is a great example of partners working together to save land with critical resources in the most cost-effective and efficient manner,” said Lebanon Township Mayor Eileen Swan, also serves as a member of Governor McGreevey’s Highlands Task Force. “It’s important to see communities working across their municipal borders to save land of statewide importance.”

The preservation of the Pelio property, which contains the headwaters of the Spruce Run Reservoir, will conserve drinking water resources. Spruce Run augments the resources of the Raritan River, which provides drinking water to residents of 48 municipalities in Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Somerset and Union Counties. Fifty-five percent of the Raritan River’s source water area is located in the Highlands region.

The County of Hunterdon will manage the acquired land as a park to be used for passive recreation. The Pelio property will link county parks in the area, creating a greenway uniting the County of Hunterdon’s Point Mountain Reservation, September Farms and the Mountain Farm section of the Teetertown Ravine Nature Preserve. Hunterdon officials plan to manage a portion of the property as grassland bird habitat, which is recognized as one of New Jersey’s critical wildlife habitats.

The Green Acres Program allocated $411,409 in direct aid and $450,000 in grants to the Hunterdon Land Trust Alliance and the Washington Township Land Trust for the preservation of the property. The County of Hunterdon contributed $411,407 from its County Open Space Trust Fund; the New Jersey Water Supply Authority (NJWSA) contributed $593,425 and Lebanon Township contributed $401,000 through low interest loans obtained from the Environmental Infrastructure Trust Fund.

The purchase of the Pelio property is part of the NJWSA’s Spruce Run Initiative, which dedicates a portion of its Raritan Basin System ratepayer funds to assisting local, county and state governments in the preservation of critical watershed properties in the Spruce Run Watershed. The Initiative’s objective is to maximize the efficiency of existing watershed preservation programs through a coordinated effort of government, non-profit, and private resources.

"Preserving critical watershed parcels is important to both our state and to our customers,” said Henry Patterson, Executive Director of the New Jersey Water Supply Authority. “That is why, since July 2003, a portion of our rate is dedicated to the preservation of critical watershed parcels."

Under the Spruce Run Initiative, NJWSA and the DEP Green Acres Program have partnered with Hunterdon County, Bethlehem Township, Union Township, Lebanon Township, and Hunterdon Land Trust to preserve numerous parcels of land within the Spruce Run Watershed. The partners are currently engaged in the acquisition of at least six additional tracts of land containing more than 320 acres. All six properties contain water resource protection values and fields and woodlands that serve as habitat to migratory songbirds and threatened grassland birds. In addition, the preservation of these properties will protect streams that support trout and wetlands that support endangered species including the bog turtle and the spotted salamader.

The preservation of the Pelio property complements Governor McGreevey's efforts to protect the Highlands region from encroaching development. On Tuesday, the Governor signed the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, the toughest of its kind in the country. The Act restricts development on nearly 400,000 acres and heightens the protections on this environmentally sensitive land, which is the source of clean drinking water for 5.4 million New Jersey residents.

The Act also establishes the Highlands Water Protection & Planning Council. The Council will work with local officials to prepare a master plan for the entire Highlands region, including preservation and planning areas, within 18 months.

Since taking office, the Governor has preserved an estimated 7,200 acres of farmland in the Highlands, protected approximately 22,000 acres of open space in and around the Highlands, and applied C1 designation to seven waterbodies in the region. In November 2002, voters approved Public Question No. 1, which will provide $150 million toward the purchase of open space and farms in the Highlands region and throughout the State.

The DEP Green Acres Program purchases land to protect environmentally sensitive open space, water resources and other significant natural and historical open space. Land acquired becomes part of the statewide system of parks and forest, wildlife management areas and natural areas.

Since Governor McGreevey took office, the Green Acres Program has acquired 66,429 acres of open space-44,340 acres for state projects, 11,284 acres for local projects and 10,805 acres for nonprofit groups. To date, the Green Acres Program has protected more than 548,797 acres of open space and provided funding to develop hundreds of parks statewide. The statewide system of preserved open space and farmland totals more than 1.28 million acres.

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