Five years of cooperation between Ocean County and the Navy have led to the preservation of more than 2,000 acres of open space around the Joint Base – McGuire, Dix, Lakehurst.
And the Board of Freeholders says an extension of that agreement, and its expansion to include the Air Force, will not only help to continue those preservation efforts, but also will help with a larger goal: protecting the future existence of the base.
“We want to make sure we don’t end up on a BRAC list,” said Freeholder John P. Kelly said on Wednesday, referring to the Base Realignment and Closure lists, where military bases around the country have been shuttered, including Fort Monmouth in Tinton Falls.
“We were on the BRAC list in 1995,” Kelly said, “and it was only thanks to the yeoman work of our congressmen, Chris Smith and Jim Saxton, that we narrowly escaped.
“In 1995 we almost waited too long. We don’t want to be in that position again.”
Under the current agreement that Ocean County has with the Navy, the County has received more than $1 million to purchase 415 acres of land to prevent encroachment of homes on the base. The county is scheduled to receive another $1.6 million for three parcels of land that total another 1,191 acres.
The biggest chunk of protected space is on the Jackson side of the base, where the county purchased 387 acres adjacent to the base under the National Lands Trust Fund program. The military then secured a deed restriction on another 1,415 acres at a cost of $3 million, the freeholders said.
“The Clayton property allowed to add to Patriots Park,” Freeholder Director Gerry P. Little said.
Preventing encroachment of homes not only enhances the base’s security but reduces conflict between people and the base.
“The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders has had a strong relationship with Navy Lakehurst and we have worked closely with the base to make sure it remains viable for both homeland security and for the economic benefits it provides to the region,” Little said. “Now that it is part of the joint base installation with McGuire Air Force Base and Fort Dix, we want to continue that relationship and strengthen it.”
The freeholders noted that a recently completed Joint Land Use study of area around the three bases outlined a regional approach to land use. The study, which involved representatives from Ocean County, Burlington County, the Pinelands Commission, the state Office of Smart Growth, the surrounding municipalities and the Department of Defense, provided a look at the needs of the bases and the needs of the communities to help them work together.