By Jason Laday
April 14, 2010, 9:46PM
Cumberland County, in the south-central portion of New Jersey, is one of the more rural and least populated counties in the state. As of 2000, its population was 146,438 over 489 sq. miles of land (by way of comparison, Monmouth County, Acre Whore's home county and home to Upper Freehold, the township with the most preserved farmland in the entire state, reported a population of 642,030 over its 472 sq. miles of land by 2007). Millville (44.5 sq. miles) is a city in Cumberland County, New Jersey, United States. As of the United States 2000 Census, the city population was 26,847. Its population has risen by 5-percent, in 2006, to 28,194. Millville, Bridgeton and Vineland are the three principal New Jersey cities of the Vineland-Millville-Bridgeton Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area which encompasses those cities and all of Cumberland County for statistical purposes.
The tract, called Holly Farms, located just east of Holly Heights School and bordering a stretch of preserved land between the Manumuskin River and Menantico Creek, has been a major concern of multiple conservation groups since the 1980s.
The BPU voted 3-1, with member Nick Asselta abstaining, in favor of the sale, which will see Jackson,-based developer RWV Land & C.M. Livestock purchase the land for $4 million.
“The land is extremely important — it is situated between two scenic rivers,” said Jane Galetto, president of Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and its Tributaries, in reaction to the decision.
“The ecological characteristics of this property are unparalleled in New Jersey,” added Galetto in a preparted statement. “The site is bordered by federally-protected Wild and Scenic Rivers, and is needed to help protect those public investments.”
Representatives from the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club lambasted the BPU’s decision, calling it “the worst example of destructive sprawl.”
In addition, Sierra Club officials argued that the BPU ignored a bid submitted by the state Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres Program to purchase the land.
In a statement, New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said Green Acres’ offer boasted a greater return on investiment for rate payers — full protection for the site and a greater financial reward — than the plan that ultimately gain the BPU’s approval.
“The sale of this land sells out the environment and sells out the rate payers of New Jersey,” said Tittel. “If this land were bought for preservation, the rate payers of New Jersey would get the money up front.
“Putting this environmentally sensitive land up for development, means that rate payers won’t get paid for years, and we will lose an environmental gem.”
According to BPU spokesman Greg Reinert, the NJDEP offered Atlantic City Electric approximately $2.5 million in one lump sum, as opposed to RWV’s bid of $4 million over a period of four years.
The spokesman added the BPU’s sole duty regarding the land deal was to represent the interests of utility payers.
“The board’s job here was to make sure rate payers are getting the best deal,” said Reinert. “That’s the extent of our responsibility.”
He later stated that, even with interest over four years, the NJDEP’s offer of $2.5 million “in today’s market” would still fail to measure up to the private developer’s offer, even if paid out over time.
RWV Land and C.M. Livestock has previously presented to the Millville Planning Board a general development application to build approximately 900 residential units and a golf course on 400 acres of the property.
However, BPU and environmental representatives alike stated the developer still has many hurdles to clear before making such a plan a reality.
“Any development there would have to be approved by the DEP and the (Environmental Protection Agency), as they would have to confirm any reports of endagered species in that area, as some groups have said there are,” said Reinert. “Also, they would have to go through regular planning board approvals.”
Galetto said the developer has still yet to gain water and sewer access to the area — a prospect she described as a particularly large stumbling block for the company.
“They still have a number of hurdles, yes,” she said. “There are still many planning board stages they have to go through, at least. And sewer and water will be a big thing for them.”
In a statement, she added, “The decision by the BPU only strengthens our resolve to see that this property is placed in public ownership in order to protect the interests of the people of our state and to leave an important legacy for their children and grandchildren.”