AR-News: (NJ) Unique land swap saves sanctuary
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WeArPetitions at aol.com
Thu Oct 9 14:12:29 EDT 2003
By JULIE LANGE , Staff Writer 10/09/2003
HARDING TWP. - Thanks to some out-of-the-box thinking by officials, the
township will be able to finance its share of the remediation costs to clean up a
polluted landfill, a pristine wildlife sanctuary will be saved from development
and 64 acres will be added to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.
As part of a land swap deal which appears to benefit everyone, especially the
environment, the township is about to purchase a 64-acre wildlife sanctuary,
located on Long Hill Road and surrounded on two sides by the Great Swamp
National Wildlife Refuge, for $1.75 million from Wildlife Preserves Inc., (WPI) a
non-profit New Jersey corporation dedicated to preserving wildlife and
The township will then turn the property over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, which owns the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, in lieu of
payment for the town's share of the $2 million cost to remediate the former Harding
Landfill in the summer of 2000.
The former Harding Landfill is located about 500 feet northwest of Long Hill
Road on land adjacent to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Service. The
.6-acre tract was a municipal trash dump for several decades until 1969 when it was
acquired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
According to Mayor John Murray, WPI had previously tried without success to
get the federal government to buy the property with certain restrictions, but
the government would not agree to those terms.
The township's 11th hour deal with Wildlife Preserves' came after the
organization already had signed a purchase agreement with Woodmont Builders LLC, who
wanted to build houses on the property. But WPI founder Robert Perkins still
wasn't willing to give up on preserving the land.
"He came to us in a last ditch effort to try to preserve that property,"
Murray said. "When we sat down with him, it occurred to us that we had a valuable
opportunity to buy the land and transfer it to the federal government to
satisfy our obligations for the landfill."
Murray said WPI had to buy out its contract with developer Don Widmondt, who
heads up the Parsippany-based Woodmont Builders, but "he was a real gentleman
to negotiate with."
"He's very concerned about the environment and about responsible
development," Murray said of Widmondt.
The next step was negotiating terms of the property transfer with U.S. Fish
and Wildlife. Murray said WPI wanted to stipulate that no plants or wildlife
could be removed and that there would be no building, habitat disturbance or
deer management within the preserve. But the federal government didn't like the
conditions, and the negotiations continued for several months as the two sides
inched closer to an agreement, Murray said.
The terms finally accepted by both sides include no hunting, trapping or
poisoning of any species and no removal of specimens, not even for research, on
the 64-acre tract, Murray said. The federal government will reserve the right to
build up to four houses on the land, such as ranger housing, but there are no
plans to do so, he said.
"The government was very clear that they have no intention of putting
anything on that property," Murray said.
The deal is subject to the approval of a federal judge, following a 30-day
comment period that ends on November 3, and Murray anticipates closing by the
end of the year.
Some of the funds to purchase the WPI tract came from donations by neighbors
and other interested parties who realized the value of the property to the
township, Murray said, adding that neighbor Bobby Irwin was especially generous.
The township came up with the rest of the money by issuing a bond.
Between 1991 and 1999, environmental testing was done and a number of
contaminants were discovered, including DDT and other pesticides as well as cadmium,
lead and zinc.
Murray said the Army Corps of Engineers ran samples and tried to determine
the source of the contaminants, but never discovered evidence of any pollution
beyond its use as a municipal dump.
Harding and government officials negotiated an agreement to share the
remediation costs, which totaled about $2 million, Murray said, and the work was
completed in August of 2001. The land is now returning to a more natural state.
"I went back there in August of 2002 and took pictures," Murray said,
describing a big grassy dome surrounded by ponds and grassy swamps. "I saw frogs
jumping in the water and it really looked neat."
©Recorder Newspapers 2003
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