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Keep the garden in ‘Garden State’

By Janet Tauro

An anticipated state Senate bill that would expand the process around warehouse development proposals in New Jersey might be the first step toward keeping the “garden” in the Garden State.

The bill, as first reported by NJ Spotlight, was expected to be introduced in late April by state Senate President Stephen Sweeney and would involve neighboring municipalities in a hearing process where the warehouse development is proposed.

From one end of New Jersey to another, urban, suburban, farm and forest communities have been walloped with warehouse proposals, and community and environmental groups have punched back with strong opposition.

Local officials, hungry for tax ratables, have approved zoning regulations allowing the development that has often created pockets of dissatisfaction and outrage.

Warehouse development, fed by diesel-spewing, polluting trucks transporting more than a billion tons of goods throughout the metropolitan area, can bring with it a host of environmental, traffic, worker and public health problems.

About 20,000 trucks travel in and out of the Newark ports each day. Those diesel emissions spill into neighboring communities, choking residents, and are inhaled by truck drivers and the workforce.

Diesel emissions, which contain the fine particulate known as black carbon, have been linked to asthma, cancer, heart disease, stroke and neurological disorders. It is estimated they cause 21,000 premature deaths each year in the United States.

Diesel emissions are heavy, low to the ground and easily breathed. We are suffocating ourselves, and particularly the elderly, those with pre-existing health conditions, and children, whose lungs, organs and immune systems are not fully developed.

Online shopping is unlikely to change in the future, and in fact, will most likely expand. It is time, however, for a moratorium on warehouse development in New Jersey and regional and watershed planning that would include repurposing empty malls, factories and office space as a first location choice.

The structures must be emissions-free and energy self-sustaining. Trucks traveling to and from must be electrified and the facility must have electric charging stations. It can happen and it is happening in Europe where large corporations are working to make their distribution centers carbon neutral.

In towns where sprawling warehouses have been approved or proposed, local activists are lamenting that timing is everything.

In Jackson, a developer is clear-cutting 73 acres of mature woodlands in the midst of the Toms River watershed to build more than a million square feet of warehouses on the edge of a residential community.

The warehouses are part of an enormous mixed use development known as Adventure Crossing that is being developed on Route 537 near Interstate 195 and Six Flags Great Adventure.

Had the Sweeney bill been in place, neighboring Pinelands and downstream municipalities, including Toms River and Brick Township, would have had a voice in the (public hearing) proceedings had they wanted one, and it is possible the development might not have been approved.

As it now stands, local officials have just opened the door for more warehouse development by establishing a precedent with the Adventure Crossing approvals.

Janet Tauro represents Clean Water Action and is the organization’s New Jersey board chair.

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