HOWELL – Howell Township and the Monmouth Conservation Foundation (MCF) have purchased nearly six acres of land near Deerwood Park for preservation.
Being heavily wooded, the parcel of land contains wetlands as well as a portion of a Category 1 stream Quail Creek. This newly acquired land will be left untouched and protected from any future developments in order to offer a home for local wildlife and green space.
“Land acquisitions come to fruition through many different pathways, and MCF plays a variety of roles in preserving the land – sometimes providing funding, other times facilitating the process by guiding a municipality through the steps, in some cases bringing together partners, or sometimes a combination of all of the above,” said Karen Keene, MCF Director of Development. “The journey to land preservation can be complicated and slow, in some cases unique even – such as this one, but the result is always a victory to be celebrated by all involved, and all who benefit.”
The six acres of persevered land was able to be obtained due to what MCF says is a mitigation measure called diversion. The land was preserved through the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Green Acres program in Howell and was impacted by a New Jersey American Water (NJAW) water main infrastructure project.
Following DEP policies, officials settled on an agreement to acquire and protect these six acres.
“The entire Council agrees that our partnership with MCF has been one of the most fruitful and rewarding that the Township has,” Howell officials said in a statement. “Through a great combination of teamwork and insight, we have preserved acre upon acre of open space. And with every acre preserved, we receive dividends in the form of fresh air, wooded lands, open vistas, clean water, wildlife habitat, you name it. All of these factors enhance the quality of life in our Township. We look forward to working with MCF for many more years; we’ve only just begun.”
Phase 2 of the water main infrastructure project began back in 2020 installing about 20,000 more feet of a new watermain in the Township as well as 25 new fire hydrants along the pipeline route. The first phase was completed in 2018, installing 18,500 feet of new transmission main.
The project impacted about 0.61 acres of parkland within parts of the Municipal Complex and Alfred C. Sauer Park at Echo Lake in Howell; both are lands on the DEP’s Recreation and Open Space Inventory (ROSI) that have benefited from Green Acres funding.
After reviewing the project and looking for possible alternate routes, the DEP ultimately authorized the major diversion project and ruled compensation by NJAW was required elsewhere.
According to the MCF, “DEP Green Acres policies require that compensation for a major diversion address both the fair market value and the area of the land being diverted through the dedication of replacement land or funds for the future purchase of replacement land within Howell, following preset ratios.”
Additionally, compensation is necessary for any trees of at least six-inch diameter at breast height (4.5 feet) that will be removed as part of the diversion. Replacement trees must be planted or a comparable wooded replacement.
After learning the number of trees and acreage that would be impacted by the NJAW project, DEP determined a total compensation value exceeding $200,000 for this diversion. MCF stated that the Category 1 stream on this parcel mandates the highest DEP protection.
During this time, Howell Township and MCF were presented with the opportunity to purchase the six acres near Deerwood Park. The DEP allowed the Township to use all of diversion funds towards the acquisition.
“It was the DEP’s opinion that the protection of additional land that contained existing mature forest offered a greater public benefit than offering less funding for land while working to replant trees throughout ROSI lands in Howell. The Township contributed the balance of the cost for the acquisition,” Keene said. “In the end, the public will benefit from updated drinking water main infrastructure and additional permanently protected green space!”