A plan to build a Super Walmart near the Toms River-Manchester border of Route 37 is not a step forward for saving the Northern Pine Snake or for Barnegat Bay restoration plans, said a preservation group in documents submitted to the state.
The Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA) has submitted documents in opposition to a plan between the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection and the developers of a Super Walmart proposed to be built on the Toms River-Manchester border.
The proposal is a compromise that would allow for the Walmart to be built, but with a smaller parking lot, and with the developer assuming responsibility to enhance the surrounding habitat for the snake, according to the state proposal.
However, PPA cited a lack of an actual proposed settlement and other environmental concerns in a letter to the DEP dated March 9. The deadline for public comment on the proposal was March 10.
"We object to the fact that the [DEP] has not presented any actual proposed settlement for review, but merely a collection of memos by the applicant and NJDEP staff," stated an attorney for the alliance in the letter.
The proposal, which was announced in the Jan. 12 DEP Bulletin, a compilation of permit applications and decisions, would require developer Jaylin Holdings to preserve forest inhabited by threatened pine snakes while allowing the superstore and its parking lot to be built on 21 acres, while preserving 212 acres of land.
Essentially, PPA said the proposal isn't clear on how preservation will work, such as who is providing the money for it, who will oversee it, and how long it will be guaranteed to be there.
The alliance letter stated that it is unclear what terms are being made for "financial guarantees, whether and how proposed conservations measures will be carried out over time, who will carry out and inspect what parts of the proposed mitigation activities, and what will be required if the proposed mitigation measures do not work as claimed."
At issue, said the PPA, is that the preserved area is not a contiguous tract, and the alliance is wondering how snakes are supposed to cross a parking lot or other built-out area to get to the next preserved spot of habitat.
The letter also called into question how the plan would impact Gov. Chris Christie's plan to restore the Barnegat Bay.
"It is incredible that the NJDEP would look favorably upon this settlement given the stated policy of the agency and the Governor to 'Save Barnegat Bay,' " the letter stated, adding that the construction would "add a great deal of impervious cover" and "contaminating nutrients" into the bay and its watershed.
"While the public is being asked to spend money fixing malfunctioning stormwater basins to reduce nutrient loads, this development will negate a significant portion of those investments," the letter stated.
states that, for every acre Walmart develops, 10 acres will be set aside to protect snake habitat. That amounts to more than 200 acres of Pitch Pine trees and small sandy hills that go on for miles alongside Route 37.
Planned conservation efforts include Jaylin’s construction of five den areas called hibernacula, canopy sections needed for snake basking, nesting areas and a fence to block human interaction.
According to a DEP release from January, the department twice denied a Coastal Area Facility Review act permit filed by Jaylin because the development could impact the northern pine snakes, a threatened species in New Jersey.
Lawrence Hajna, state DEP spokesman, said that the period for public comment was extended because this was the third time the CAFRA permit was filed by Jaylin and previous objectors needed to be notified.
Now that the period for public comment has closed, Hajna said that the DEP will consider comments, including those made by the PPA.
"We'll respond to that in writing," he said.
The DEP's ultimate goal, Hajna said in February, is that the parties will "enter into this agreement and the project will move forward.
"We'll look at the comments in the context of the agreement. If any changes are needed, well make these accommodations," he said. "We take those comments very seriously."