PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT PLAN WOULD PROTECT AND IMPROVE
SNAKE HABITAT, ENABLE STORE PROJECT TO MOVE AHEAD
(11/P2) TRENTON - The Department of Environmental Protection has reached a tentative agreement that would permanently preserve 212 acres of forest and enhance pine snake habitat on land in Ocean County while allowing development of a Walmart store to move forward. The agreement also calls for minimizing impacts to the local snake population and requires construction to avoid a pine snake den area at the development area straddling Toms River and Manchester.
The agreement resolves a Coastal Area Facility Review Act permit that the DEP has twice denied Jaylin Holdings LLC because of potential impacts to northern pine snakes, a species that is listed as threatened in New Jersey, and other issues.
"This agreement represents a common sense approach that allows this forested land to remain without any development potential whatsoever, and enhances the local habitat of the northern pine snake while allowing reasonable, conscientiously planned development along a major transportation route to move forward and create economic growth," Commissioner Bob Martin said. "This agreement will result in a net environmental gain by permanently preserving 10 acres for every acre that would be developed."
The DEP encouraged Jaylin to search for a location for the development project on previously developed land, but the firm was unable to find a suitable alternative.
The developer has proposed reducing the footprint of the project, physically protecting local pine snakes, and permanently protecting and improving habitat. Specifically, the agreement calls for Jaylin to preserve 212 acres of Pinelands uplands and wetlands on seven parcels located in proximity of the proposed Walmart on Route 37, more than compensating the 21 acres of habitat that will be lost during construction of the store and parking areas. All but part of the preserved area would receive habitat improvements.
"We developed a scientific methodology that was reviewed by experts in the field to evaluate the applicant's acquisition and habitat enhancement plan," said David Jenkins, Chief of the DEP's Endangered and Nongame Species Program. "We thoroughly evaluated every facet of the plan and determined that, overall, it more than compensates for the development's impacts on snakes."
While large-scale development of the compensation sites is already constrained by Pinelands and endangered species regulations, the proposed conservation actions would allow this land to remain completely as undeveloped forest. It would also create and enhance habitat the species needs to thrive.
Jaylin would construct five hibernacula, or den areas, thin sections of forest canopy to create sunny areas snakes need for basking, create upland forest clearings for nesting, and block access to limit human activity that may stress snakes.
Known for its noisy hiss yet reclusive nature, the northern pine snake is a relatively large, non-venomous species that lives in sandy underground burrows and basks in sunny areas. The Pinelands may hold some of the largest populations in the Northeast.
The DEP anticipates entering into the settlement agreement subject to public comments and review of those comments by the department. A notice of the proposed settlement will be published in the new issue of the DEP Bulletin at http://www.nj.gov/dep/bulletin/index.html
The public may review the proposed plan and submit comments by contacting the DEP's Division of Land Use Regulation at 609-633-2289. Comments may also be mailed to: Ocean County Section Chief, Division of Land Use Regulation, NJDEP, P.O. Box 420 501-02A, Trenton, NJ 08625.