AGREEMENT ENABLES EAST WINDSOR, HAMILTON AND ROBBINSVILLE
TO REPLACE TREES LOST TO TURNPIKE WIDENING
(10/P108) TRENTON - The Department of Environmental Protection, three Mercer County municipalities and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority have reached a settlement agreement that will enable the towns to replace trees that were removed to accommodate the Turnpike widening project, Commissioner Bob Martin announced today.
"We are pleased to have worked out an amicable settlement of this issue with the towns," Commissioner Martin said. "The agreement provides for funding of reforestation projects in East Windsor, Robbinsville and Hamilton, enabling the mayors to meet their residents' desire for trees that provide many environmental and aesthetic benefits. The department has long been and will continue to be committed to reforestation."
The settlement, which will be filed with the court, resolves a lawsuit the three towns had filed against the State regarding funds that would have been available for tree replacement.
At issue was some $11 million worth of trees among the three towns that had to be moved to accommodate the Turnpike widening and cannot be replaced directly along the highway's right-of-way. Funds to replace the trees within the towns were reallocated by the Legislature in the FY11 budget to keep the State parks open.
"Seeking reallocation of funds from trees to parks was a tough decision to have to make, but in the current economy, it was not a difficult choice. Our residents need low-cost vacation and recreation alternatives. The decision to use the reforestation money to keep our State parks open benefits the millions of people who flock to our parks and forests to camp, hike, swim, picnic, and enjoy the beauty of the state's natural areas," Commissioner Martin said. "It was the right choice."
Specifically, under the terms of the agreement, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority will allocate $3 million this year to tree-planting projects in the three municipalities: $1,316,442 to East Windsor, $1,243,666 to Robbinsville and $439,892 to Hamilton. For each of the two subsequent fiscal years, East Windsor would be eligible to receive $1,832,619, Robbinsville $1,731,307, and Hamilton $612,374.
The No Net Loss Reforestation Act requires State agencies to replace trees removed during construction projects. The Turnpike Authority is currently widening the Turnpike from Interchange 6 in Burlington County to Interchange 9 in Middlesex County.
The Authority will reforest the entire length of the project route by the time the work ends, now scheduled for completion by 2014, but there is not enough acreage available along the Turnpike route to make up for all the forested acreage to be disturbed.
The law allows trees to be planted in other parts of affected municipalities to make up the difference.