The New Jersey Pinelands has more than one million acres of coastal plains and a precious natural resource. But the nation’s first national reserve is getting trashed because people are partying there, gunning ATVs or using it as a dumping ground for household debris. Preservationists have found a mattress and box spring and even a boat. Pinelands Preservation Alliance Executive Director Carleton Montgomery told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that illegal dumping in the Pinelands impacts wildlife and responsible visitors.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection started a “Don’t Waste Our Space Program” five months ago and there have been 16 arrests. When asked how widespread illegal dumping is in the Pinelands, Montgomery said it is hard to overstate how widespread it is. He said that it is a combination of abusive use of trucks and jeeps, partying and dumping because all of those practices seem to go together. He said that the Pinelands has become something of a playground as well as a dumping ground with people coming from throughout the broader region.
Montgomery said that the dumping has a lot of impacts. He said that trash can be dangerous for other visitors and wildlife. He said that the use of monster trucks through the wetlands destroys rare plant habitats and wildlife habitats, as well as makes roads impassible to responsible people who want to go and enjoy the public lands. He said the Pinelands are all public lands and in a recent survey, the alliance has found more than 110 sites with significant damage, dumping and trash being left behind.
The alliance received a William Penn Foundation grant and Montgomery said part of it was to fund the survey that the alliance has been conducting with the South Jersey Land and Water Trust to try to document the locations where the damage is taking place, the ways people are getting in and out of those sites and photograph and videotape that abuse so people can get a real sense of how bad it is in the hopes that political leaders will take strong action.
The Pinelands helps recharge the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer that holds some of the purest water in the United States, according to Montgomery. He said that the aquifer, which is water that is embedded in the sand, is jeopardized by the dumping. He said that it is very vulnerable and anything that people do on the surface of the land, whether it is dumping chemicals, oil, run-off from roads or fertilizers, all of that flows into the aquifer and can contaminate a water supply that millions of people rely upon, as well as tens of thousands of acres of agriculture rely on.
“Again, think of the aquifer as water in the sands. When we build subdivisions for example, we tend to put in lawns and then we fertilize those lawns. We have to fertilize them really heavily because we are trying to grow a lawn on sand. Much of that fertilizer ends up washing into the aquifer and contaminating that water,” said Montgomery. “Also, when we build roads and rooftops and that surface collects rainfall, the rainfall has all kinds of chemicals in it from the other things that we do like drive cars and have power plants. It concentrates those contaminates.”
As for the proposed pipeline that the Pinelands Commission blocked in January, Montgomery said that he hopes that South Jersey Gas will not be able to go ahead with that project. He said that South Jersey Gas has made clear that it wants to build the pipeline to serve a power plant on the shore of Great Egg Harbor. He said that the problem they have had so far is that they picked a route that violates the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan. He said that South Jersey Gas could pick a route that does not violate the plan and still get natural gas to the power plant. He said they have not made clear yet how they intend to proceed.