EDITORIAL COMMENT ON DEVELOPMENT OF ONCE PUBLIC-LANDS: COOPERATION OF THE STATE, THE TOWN, AND THE DEVELOPERS
Dr. Patrick L. Cooney
The town of Vernon, Sussex County, New Jersey is developing what was once the northern part of the Hamburg Mountain Wildlife Management Area.
The poor town of Vernon, NJ cries to the state that they are destitute and really need to have the land that is designated a Wildlife Management Area. The state politicians say "O.k. we want to help you boys out and so you can have the W.M.A. But now we don't want you building big hotels up there -- we want you only to have passive recreation on the WMA lands." The town says "Oh, sure don't worry about it! We are also environmentalists too and respect the environment."
So the town gains the doughnut shaped once public lands (they
already had the hole of the doughnut in private hands and the
edges of the mountain). Once the town had the land, it decided to
do with it whatever it wanted to do with it (while avoiding
anything egregious like a grand hotel on top of the mountain).
The town then sells the land to a big-time developer who decides
to actively develop the mountain top. Among other things, they
decide to put a 27-hole golf course on top of the mountain and
five or so lodges and 1,500 residential units.
Now, the state does not say anything about this development. So, basically they passively accept the violation of their own restrictions.
Now, if it were not for the environmentalist groups, the town, the state, and the developers would have proceed apace and they would have all lived happily ever after. But the environmentalists saw through the tri-party "collusion" to violate the restrictions and decided to sue.
This type of cooperation on the part of the state with the developers is very worrisome. Can the state of New Jersey just sell off all the Wildlife Management Areas whenever the political pressure rises to a crescendo? And will they just play a pretend game with us, knowing all along that their restrictions on the use of the once-public lands will, over time, be violated?
Michael St. John went to two of the town planning meetings recently and I went to one, but I regard them as a waste of time for us. The town is basically cooperating with the lawyers and witnesses for the developers to make sure that the Department of Environmental Protection will not hassle them over their plans for development. The town board is helping the developers make a good development plan that will sail by the DEP and give the appearance, but not the substance, of environmental concern.
I sat and listened to two master's degree graduates of Rutgers University's environmental science and plant ecology departments wax lyrical on how they were making the golf course environmentally correct. Of course, the question of what the hell are you doing building a gold course on once-public lands that were sold to you for passive use only is never asked. And if one dares ask the question, they are quickly silenced with "You don't have to answer that question. We are only here to consider the golf course." And so the town cooperates with the developers and the state looks the other way.
Let me use an analogy here. When sociologists and other liberals killed the biological justifications for racism and established sociological interpretations of race relations, the racists learned the new sociological language and then used sociological arguments to justify racism. Similarly, the developers have learned to speak the environmentalist lingo and use it to push through their development plans. And the destruction of our environment proceeds apace.
The Record (June 4, 2002:A-3 by Matthew Brown) reported that the state of New Jersey would buy back Hamburg Mountain top of 1,729 acres for $7.15 million dollars. Intrawest paid only $837,000 dollars for the land that now the state pays sixfold on a per-acre basis to get it back. (And the state will offer $360,000 dollars for improvements along Route 94 to handle the increased traffic that will result from the Intrawest resort and housing developments that will now proceed.