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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 27, 2003

Contact: DEP Amy Cradic (609) 984-1795
Senator Vitale: Michal (732) 855-7441

 

Critical Open Space Parcels Preserved Along Arthur Kill Greenway in Middlesex County:
Push for November Open Space Ballot Initiative Continues

(03/159) EDISON TOWNSHIP - Senator Joseph F. Vitale, D-Middlesex, and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell, joined by the Coalition for Conservation, the Natural Lands Trust and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, announced today the creation of a new, urban passive recreation preserve in Middlesex County.

"The preservation of this land will promote a higher quality of life for the citizens of New Jersey, and it is with great pleasure that I present the deed for this property to the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust," said Senator Vitale. "The Soldiers and Sailors property will serve to protect wildlife and provide refuge from our busy, urban lives."

The preserved area within Woodbridge and Edison townships includes two contiguous properties - a nearly 53-acre property known as Soldiers and Sailors and a 16-acre parcel known as the Sparks Properties. Situated in the floodplain of the South Branch of the Rahway River, the properties feature significant wetland and wildlife habitat and have been identified as high priority acquisition lands by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation's "Greenways to the Arthur Kill" report. These properties combined form the largest contiguous forest over a 10 square mile area.

"This urban preserve protects significant habitat for wildlife including the endangered red-shouldered hawk and advances Governor McGreevey's goal of providing our urban communities greater access to dwindling open space," said DEP Commissioner Campbell. "A successful partnership effort among the state, the nonprofit community and the local government, and the invaluable support from Senator Vitale enabled us to save this critical parcel of land from future development."

The Soldiers and Sailors property is located on the site of the New Jersey State Home for Disabled Soldiers and was preserved through legislation sponsored by Senator Vitale, which allowed for a transfer donation of surplus land from the Department of Treasury to the nonprofit Natural Lands Trust within the DEP.

"I am glad that the Sparks Tract has been preserved," said Edison Mayor George A. Spadoro. "This preservation adds key parcels to Edison's open space inventory. Edison showed its dedication to this project by contributing $250,000 from its local open space trust fund to this acquisition project."

Located in a densely developed area along the Arthur Kill Greenway, the Soldiers and Sailors property is 90 percent forested. A study conducted by the New Jersey Audubon Society for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation's "Greenways to the Arthur Kill" report, determined the site to be critical migratory songbird habitat. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW), the site also is of high value as a fish and wildlife resource, providing habitat for 97 species of breeding and migratory birds, including the endangered red-shouldered hawk and 33 species identified on the USFW New Jersey list of breeding birds of concern. The property serves as a basin for much of the area's stormwater runoff.

"A group of community activists were the initiators of this legislation," said Senator Vitale. "Due to the leadership of Dennis Miranda, Arthur Kill Coalition; Joy Grafton, Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions; Jane Tousman, Edison Open Space Committee; Walter Stochel, Edison Greenways Group; Robert Spiegel, Edison Wetlands Association; and Florence Caparaso, a devoted Woodbridge activist, our state will forever enjoy this land."

Senator Barbara Buono, who represents Edison Township, said the successful efforts to create the recreation preserve should serve as statewide models."It was truly heroic to preserve this oasis of nature in a thriving, fully-developed region," said Senator Buono, D-18th Legislative District. "Without those tireless efforts, we could very well be staring at an office park today instead of a preserve which will be saved for generations to come."

Bordering the Soldiers and Sailors parcel on its southern border, the Sparks Properties land contains significant wetland habitat within the Hudson-Raritan Estuary. The property features approximately 7.5 acres of upland forest, 5 acres of wetland forest and 4 acres of grassland. The Sparks Properties was acquired for $2 million from a private landowner by New Jersey Conservation Foundation and then transferred to the Natural Lands Trust. The state Green Acres Program, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the Township of Edison funded the property transfer.

"The preservation of these lands marks the culmination of years of hard work and commitment of many individuals and organizations, including Governor McGreevey's leadership as Mayor of Woodbridge Township, efforts of the Arthur Kill Coalition, including the Edison Greenways Group, and Senator Vitale's successful legislation to transfer lands for permanent preservation," said Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

The addition of the Sparks Properties to the overall preservation effort in Middlesex County will significantly increase the opportunity for future public access to the whole of the preserved wetland forest that straddles Evergreen Road along the South Branch of the Rahway River. In addition to being immediately accessible to the many residents of a nearby apartment complex, the parcel provides for safe roadside parking for visitors from more distant areas along a paved access easement.

"One of the most important gifts we can give to future generations is open space," said Woodbridge Township Mayor Frank G. Pelzman. "This recreation preserve will not only provide an area where children can learn about the environment, but will create a place where residents can relax and enjoy nature."

Since Governor McGreevey took office last year, the state Green Acres program has acquired 43,492 acres of open space, and the State Agriculture Development Committee has preserved 310 farms covering 25,516 acres.

Five years ago, voters approved a constitutional dedication of $98 million annually over the next 30 years to provide a stable source of funding for open space purchases, farmland preservation and historic preservation. Public Question No. 1, a constitutional amendment, proposes to increase the bonding capacity of the Garden State Preservation Trust to $1.15 billion, an increase of $150 million from the $1 billion voters approved. The increased bonding would place no additional costs on New Jersey taxpayers. The sales tax dedicated in 1998 to pay off Garden State Preservation Trust bonds would cover these additional bonds by taking advantage of today's lower interest rates.

At least $50 million of the additional funding will be used to create and improve parks in cities and suburbs over the next three years as part of Governor McGreevey's reforms to the Green Acres program. The additional money would help meet New Jersey's growing demand for open space. A minimum of $50 million also would be spent on open space purchases and farmland preservation in the Highlands, a critical environmental resource that is the source of drinking water for more than a third of New Jersey's residents.

"Public Question No. 1 is an incredible opportunity to provide another $150 million for community parks, open space, farmland and clean water without raising taxes or costing taxpayers any additional money," said Michael Catania, chairman of the Coalition for Conservation. "The Coalition urges all New Jersey voters to take advantage of this opportunity and vote 'yes' on Public Question No. 1 on Nov. 4."

The New Jersey Natural Lands Trust was created in 1968 by the Legislature as an independent agency with the mission to preserve land in its natural state for enjoyment by the public and to protect natural diversity through the acquisition of open space. The Trust preserves land primarily by donations of open space through acquisition of title in fee simple or of conservation easements, and manages its properties to conserve endangered species habitat, rare natural features, and significant ecosystems. The Trust invites passive use by the public for recreational or educational purposes wherever such use will not adversely affect natural communities and biological diversity.

The New Jersey Conservation Foundation's mission is to preserve New Jersey's land and natural resources for the benefit of all. As an innovator and catalyst for saving land, NJCF protects strategic lands through acquisition and stewardship; promotes strong land use policies; and forges partnerships to achieve conservation goals. Since 1960, NJCF has protected over 100,000 thousand acres of open space - from the Highlands to the Pine Barrens to the Delaware Bayshore, from farms to forests to urban and suburban parks.

 

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