As we’ve reported in the past, progress on all the needed local permits for our future building has been delayed by a requirement that we conduct a two season (last fall, and a coming spring-summer period) drift net trapping survey to determine if any northern pine snakes, a threatened species in New Jersey, use our land. Under state law, Galloway Township cannot even consider our site plan and building application until we have a first stage approval from the New Jersey Pinelands Commission, called a Certificate of Filing, so the pine snake studies have been a major roadblock. Our wildlife consultants have consistently stated in reports to Pinelands that our land is simply not critical habitat for the snakes, and none were trapped in the autumn fall drift net study, but until recently Pinelands has persisted in its demands that we continue this labor intensive, costly and project-delaying study.
Although we can be only cautiously optimistic, a few days ago the pendulum seems to have swung in the direction of common sense and credible science.
In January, we appealed directly to the executive director of the Commission. In a letter we received February 16, 2007, he acknowledged that our investigation of state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) records was accurate and that a Pinelands staff claim of a recent DEP sighting of a pine snake near our property was, in fact, “a mistake.” The agency continues to contend that it has in its possession an older record -- albeit one that Pinelands staff reviewing our project has admitted may be as much as a quarter century or more old. However, Pinelands director John Stokes stated that his agency was willing to reconsider the need for the spring-summer study on our land. Yay.
Six days later, on February 22, we received an additional letter from Pinelands staff affirming they would revisit the notion that we had to conduct the second phase of the study. We had already forwarded a December 2006 letter from consultant Clay Sutton, an eminent naturalist/biologist and retired vice-president of the highly regarded consulting firm Herpetological Associates (HA), stating that, based on both his survey of our land and on the autumn data, no further study was needed in his professional opinion. After we contacted them early in the week, staff at HA, which was conducting our snake trapping study, reported to us on Friday, February 23 that they were about to mail the autumn data, showing no evidence of pine snakes, to Pinelands accompanied by a professional opinion that our land is not suitable pine snake habitat and that no further work should be required.
We hope common sense will prevail at last, and that we will be able to report in the next newsletter that we can proceed with obtaining our local building approvals.
-- submitted by Jon Luoma