The Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA) released its 17th annual State of the Pinelands Report recently, noting a few “thumbs down” items that are concerning for the group this year.
They include the continuation of vacant seats on the New Jersey Pinelands Commission; denying the commission’s request for more staff funding; the reduction of funding for Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) for open space; and allowing the corporate business tax surcharge to expire, an approximate loss of about $44 million just in one year, according to PPA Assistant Executive Director Jacklyn Rhoads.
“(The) corporate business tax has a dedication for several programs, one in particular for land acquisition,” she said. “… That surcharge money could be used for enhancing a number of things, including fixing our parks.”
The reduced funding is a concern related to unmet needs for the state parks and forest.
“New Jersey lags far behind other states that are putting in so much money in their state budget for operations, for capital improvements,” Rhoads explained, adding that the state falls behind the national average. “The expiration of the surcharge could have presented an opportunity to fill in gaps of those unmet needs.”
The Pinelands Report rates how specific state and local government actions helped or harmed the Pinelands in 2023. The annual review was presented through a virtual meeting on Jan. 18. The select actions or inactions of the last 12 months accounts for the most comprehensive reporting of incidences that affect the Pinelands National Reserve, from Gov. Phil Murphy to local municipalities.
Despite some thumbs down, Rhoads said overall, the PPA is happy with the state’s leadership, which has created a much more robust Department of Environmental Protection.
There are three empty seats on the Pinelands Commission. One was formerly occupied by Ed Lloyd, a longtime Pinelands champion who passed away in 2023. On the bright side, Murphy’s Pinelands Commission nominee from five years ago was finally confirmed by the state Senate before the end of last year.
Dr. Jessica Rittler Sanchez brings years of water science expertise that PPA hopes will spark some new energy into the Pinelands Commission.
“At the end of the day, we hope Gov. Murphy will do more for the Pinelands in the next year,” Rhoads said.
Carleton Montgomery, executive director for PPA, said in practice, a full slate of commissioners will provide more energy to take actions in solving issues and close on projects.
“The more commissioners we have dedicated to the Pinelands, the more energy, pressure and ideas you have,” he noted.
Even without a full slate of Pinelands Commissioners, the agency accomplished much this year, from adopting the long-awaited Kirkwood Cohansey Aquifer protections to appointing a new executive director.
“We are heartened to see the changes that (Executive Director) Susan Grogan’s leadership has brought about at the Pinelands Commission …” said PPA Policy Director Heidi Yeh. “The governor and legislature need to provide adequate funding in the next budget so commission staff can accelerate their work on climate change issues.”
PPA was established as a nonprofit in 1989 by environmental leaders and Pinelands residents, with the goal of preserving and protecting the more than one million acres of the Pinelands. PPA remains the only private organization dedicated solely to environmental protection throughout the Pinelands.
The 2024 State of the Pinelands Report is available online at PinelandsAlliance.org. A full-color copy of the report can be obtained by visiting the alliance at its headquarters, 17 Pemberton Road, Southampton.
For more information, call (609) 859-8860.