JACKSON – The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection joined members of the Central Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club and the public in discussing a proposed land swap between the DEP and the Club.
During a recent DEP public hearing, details of the proposal were revealed. The plan calls for the transfer of approximately 43.05 acres of land that the DEP owns in Jackson Township in exchange for approximately 86.8 acres of land owned by the Club in Upper Freehold Township.
The property owned by the Club is next to the Pleasant Run Wildlife Management Area. The property was purchased by the Club in February 2019 for $246,086.22.
According to the Proposed Land Exchange Report, the Club’s land in Upper Freehold is valued at $2,652.07 per acre while the DEP’s land in Jackson Township is valued at $3,500 per acre.
The DEP property in Jackson is currently part of the Colliers Mills Wildlife Management Area and according to the agency, a portion of it is polluted by the accumulation of lead discharge at an adjacent shooting range operated by the Central Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club. The land exchange would include creating a buffer between the WMA and the range to ensure the safety of the public.
The plan has received criticism from the New Jersey Sierra Club. Its director, Jeff Tittel, said in a prepared statement prior to the hearing that the proposal was “a bad deal for New Jersey and open space. The state is giving away to the Central Jersey Rifle Club that they have already polluted in exchange for a less valuable property. The gun club has already polluted this land, and now they want to take ownership so that they don’t have to be responsible for cleaning it up.”
“The lead from bullets and spent ammunition at the Rifle Club is impacting the Colliers Mills WMA. It is running off into streams, leaching into the soil, and poisoning wildlife. The noise from the gun range also impacts people hiking and enjoying the wildlife refuge,” Tittel said.
Originally the DEP had intended to purchase the property for $246,000. The Gun Club bought it instead for the land swap.
Tittel stated the land “is landlocked and environmentally-sensitive with wetlands. It makes no sense that they let the Gun Club buy the land for the sole purpose of making a land swap. This needs to be looked into more. We are also concerned that the contract doesn’t include a conservation easement or a stipulation to prevent development.”
DEP representative Judeth Yearny moderated the hearing. It was noted that the appraisal of the land obtained by the club relied on the past use of passive recreation. However the zoning in Jackson Township is not relegated to passive recreation. It includes the expansion of intensive recreation and the building of accessory structures.
One speaker said the appraisal that the club obtained was inaccurate as those considerations were not part of the appraisal.
Yearny said that the DEP looked at recreation of any kind “because that is how we normally approach the appraisal process. The standard is the highest or best use of intended use or whatever gives the better value. It appeared in this location that the two were not the same of best use and intended use but we will certainly look at the particular issue you are raising with respect to Jackson Township’s ordinance.”
John Coakley, the treasurer for the Central Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club, spoke about some of the residents’ concerns. “I think our record speaks for itself on the previous remediations we’ve done on the properties we already own. We are very committed to this.
“We know this is an issue and we want to resolve all of it. I don’t think there should be any questions as to whether it will be done or whether it will be done right. We will bring in a good company that does a great job. We try to come up with ideas that we hope will minimize future lead fall in that area,” Coakley added.
Another member of the club, Mike Benyo, said, “I want to applaud the level of due diligence on this transaction, and say that this is in the best interests of both the public and the club.”
Eugene Goch also spoke during the virtual hearing. “We keep hearing there is no access to the Freehold property, my understanding is that an easement exists. There would be access via the existing state property.”
Yearny said there were two issues here. One is whether an easement exists for the purposes of being taken into account as part of the appraisal to justify the fair market value as part of this exchange. The second point is once or if the state acquires the property will it be added to the Wildlife Management area and would access to the property be through contiguous state land.
Comments can be submitted to the State DEP through April 29 concerning the plan. Instructions for how to submit written comments and a copy of a report analyzing the proposed exchange can be found at: nj.gov/dep/greenacres/notices.html.