Saturday, January 7, 2012

22 Acres Added in Hopewell, Cumberland County

Originally appeared in The News of Cumberland County

HOPEWELL TWP. — There’s a sense of urgency in Matt Blake’s voice as he describes the future of New Jersey’s Green Acres Program.

On one hand, 22.5 acres at Elk Lake, in Hopewell Township, was just added to the Cohansey State Wildlife Management Area’s 800 acres.

On the other, the final round of Green Acres funding was just announced and Blake would hate to see Cumberland County miss out.

“There’s a brief window of opportunity until mid-February where towns and counties can apply for funding,” Blake said Wednesday of the program overseen by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

He’s working on raising awareness of this issue at the local level but at the moment, the 22 acres tacked onto the Cohansey management area is reason to celebrate.

“The site served as a cultural epicenter for Springtown in Greenwich, which was founded by freed slaves and Quakers who played a historically significant role in the area’s renown as a major focal point of the Underground Railroad,” Blake said.

That land, sold by the Mulhern family, was offered to Green Acres though their standard application process, though the project was apparently long in the works.

Typically, properties with willing sellers are inspected and appraised before an offer is made. In this case, the Elk Lake location was approved and now joins the Cohansey management area.

The springs that feed Elk Lake start on the property that was just sold. That’s something significant because Blake said it keeps the lake pristine and transparent — even 7 feet down.

The other timely matter worthy of mention: Green Acres sent out letters late last month to all counties and local governments in New Jersey concerning the 2012 funding round.

Voters approved the three-year Green Acres Bond Act in 2009 and 2012 brings the final round of the funding. A new source of funding would need to be approved by voters, though Blake is unsure when that may come around.

“This will be last opportunity for Cumberland County, as well its towns, to take advantage of this funding until a new funding source is approved at the ballot-box,” said Blake.

Local governments will have until mid-February to turn in their applications.
The funding traditionally can be put toward land acquisition, development and conservation projects or the other half of an initiative that requires matching funds.

Counties with an Open Space plan, as Cumberland does, typically receive between $900,000 and $1 million in grants. Blake notes the accomplishments of Essex County over the past nine years: an enhanced park system, athletic fields, playgrounds, parking areas and more.

“Cumberland County is blessed with exciting downtowns,” he said.

“Any community with a waterfront area in need of redevelopment ought to be talking to the county about securing this money for possible projects — be in downtown Fairton, Bridgeton, Millville, Greenwich, Fortescue, Bivalve or Shellpile,” said Blake.

The grant application process is apparently none too complicated. Blake said Matt Pisarski, from the county Department of Planning and Development, told him Tuesday that the “application isn’t heavy lifting.”

Open Space efforts tend to fall on the back burner in light of budget crunches, Blake said. He accepts that, but, noted the county created an open space plan to take advantage of the funding floating around.

He noted that county Planning Board Director Bob Brewer told him the pursuit of grants is a freeholder decision. The county sees themselves as a conduit in this process but “they need to be in a position to pounce when opportunities present themselves,” Blake said.

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