1,800 acres tract under Lakehurst flight path to be preserved
Ocean County will buy outright 387 acres on the Ralph Clayton and Sons property on Route 547 in Jackson near the Manchester boundary, with another 1,415 acres preserved with a conservation easement, said Anthony Cucci, New Jersey director for the Trust for Public Land, which helped put the deal together for the military and civilian agencies.
“It helps protect the water flowing into Barnegat Bay, which is a major goal of Ocean County and the State of New Jersey, and it helps the military base protect land around its runway from residential development,” Cucci said in a statement announcing the deal Thursday.
The agreement comes at a critical time on two fronts.
With the economic downturn, the county and state have a chance to preserve more land in the Barnegat Bay watershed, in a race to save natural lands that filter water heading to the bay. The Clayton property includes part of Long Brook, a headwaters tributary of the upper Toms River, said Dennis Blazak, community planning and liason officer for Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
Keeping future development away from the runways helps protect the future of the base, at a time when defense officials have just revealed they will look for new rounds of base closings. The joint base is a survivor of earlier closings, and aviation units from all branches of the military have been consolidated there in recent years.
Blazak says flights in and out of the base have increased four-fold in that time. Once a dedicated Navy installation, Lakehurst now hosts training flights by Air Force C-17 transports that make steep descents and climbs near the Clayton property as they practice combat operations.
In the announcement, county Freeholder John P. Kelly said the Clayton tract was a “high-priority acquisition” when Ocean County completed a joint land use study with the Department of Defense and Pinelands Commission in 2009.
“The Clayton acquisition removes a major encroachment threat to the Joint Base and enhances Ocean County's long term economic development viability,” Kelly said. “Ocean County has made a commitment to the base to make certain it remains an integral part of our homeland security.”
Without the county purchase 55 homes could have been built on part of the property. The acquisition cost $7.5 million, with $3 million coming from the Pentagon’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI), and $3.375 million from the Ocean County Open Space Trust Fund, which is funded with a dedicated portion of the county property tax paid by property owners and homeowners.
The Pinelands Commission contributed $1.125 million from its Pinelands Conservation Fund, which was set up in 2004 with $13 million from Atlantic City Electric, as part of an agreement that allowed the company to build electric lines in southern Ocean County.
County and Pinelands officials say keeping the land open will help preserve water and natural resources in the area, including several lakes and wetlands along the upper reaches of the Toms River. The county, Pinelands Commission and Jackson Township have cooperated for years to limit development potential along the Route 547 corridor – both to control residential growth and tax burdens in Jackson, and to preserve water quality and wildlife habitat along the upper Toms River.