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DEP’s proposed land swap with gun club is bad deal for the environment

By Jeff Tittel

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is proposing to transfer approximately 43 acres it owns in Jackson to the Central Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club in exchange for approximately 86 acres the club owns in Upper Freehold Township.

The DEP will be holding two public hearings and is seeking comments on the proposed exchange of land.

The first public hearing will be held on March 31 at 6:30 p.m. The second public hearing will be held on April 15 at 3 p.m.

Instructions for participating in the hearings, as well as the public hearing notice, how to submit written comments and a copy of a report analyzing the proposed exchange can be found at http://www.nj.gov/dep/greenacres/notices.html

The Central Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club is located at 126-142 South Stump Tavern Road in Jackson.

This land swap is a bad deal for New Jersey and for open space. The Central Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club is leasing land from the Colliers Mills Wildlife Management Area (WMA) that belongs to all of us.

This lease violates the public trust because the club is polluting the environment and creating noise issues. Now the DEP wants to give the club the land they are currently sitting on in exchange for another piece of property in Upper Freehold.

The gun club has already polluted this land and now they want to take ownership so they don’t have to be responsible for cleaning it up.

The lead from bullets and spent ammunition at the rifle club is impacting the Colliers Mills WMA. It is running off into Category 1 streams, leaching into the soil and poisoning wildlife. The noise from the gun range also impacts people hiking and enjoying the wildlife refuge.

The property that is owned by the club and proposed for conveyance to the DEP is in Upper Freehold Township next to the Pleasant Run WMA. The land was purchased by the club in February 2019 for $246,086.

According to the Proposed Land Exchange Report, the club’s land in Upper Freehold is valued at $2,652 per acre, while the DEP’s land in Jackson is valued at $3,500 per acre.

The more you look into this deal, the worse it gets. The DEP was originally looking at buying the property for $246,000. Instead, they let the gun club buy the property to use for the land swap. This is almost as if it is a set-up.

The land is not of equal value, it is landlocked and environmentally sensitive with wetlands. It makes no sense that the DEP let the gun club buy the land for the sole purpose of making a land swap. This needs to be looked into more. We are also concerned that the contract does not include a conservation easement or a stipulation to prevent development.

The DEP property in Jackson is currently part of the Colliers Mills WMA. According to the DEP, a portion of that property has been polluted by the accumulation of lead discharge at the adjacent Central Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club. The land exchange would include creating a buffer between the WMA and the range to ensure the safety of the public.

Lead shot or bullets are usually either pure lead or made up of lead alloys that contain other harmful chemicals like arsenic and hydrocarbons. These pollutants get into the soil, ground water wells and streams, and can poison wildlife and impact public health. This is especially concerning because New Jersey has a lead crisis. Lead can also lead to childhood development problems and other serious health issues.

We do not believe the land the gun club is offering the state is of greater or equal value. It is landlocked and environmentally sensitive with a lot of wetlands. Instead of doing a land swap, the DEP should be closing this rifle club and protecting this public land by forcing them to clean up their mess.

There is nothing wrong with doing land swaps when it makes sense. In this case, we should not be letting this private gun club get away with polluting state-owned land.

The DEP needs to hold the Central Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club accountable for their mess. The club has contaminated state land that is part of a Wildlife Management Area and it should not be let off the hook. We also need to make sure this never happens again by getting rid of private gun clubs on state land.

Jeff Tittel is the director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

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