The state Department of Environmental protection is expected to announce today one of its largest land acquisitions in years — and maybe the last for a while.
The DEP will hold a press conference and tour of the 5,000 acres of land in Estell Manor near the Atlantic County Estell Manor Park at 11 a.m. The agency is expected to announce the purchase of the land for open space. The acquisition, which includes rare ecosystems that form when the pinelands meet coastal estuary, is one of the largest in years.
The acquisition of the Lenape Farms and HBH Associates property in Estell Manor connects to the Tuckahoe Wildlife Management area and protects two tributaries to the Great Egg Harbor River that already are designated as wild and scenic, according to a Nature Conservancy fundraising document sent out about the property in October.
The Nature Conservancy described the project as the largest New Jersey land protection in the organization’s history in the state, the document said.
According to the fundraising document, the state and other partners contributed $9 million and the conservancy then raised $700,000. “New Jersey may never see a land protection opportunity that is this big and important again,” the document states.
The Lenape Farms tracts abut Estell Manor Park and Great Egg Harbor River. Association Director Fred Akers said Atlantic County had expressed interest for a time about half of the property. The property is split into two tracts and is bisected by Route 50, Akers said.
The organization wants the state to either hold another bond referendum or secure another funding source so more land can be purchased in the future, said Jeff Tittel, president of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club. Voters approved $400 million in the 2009 referendum.
"They're preserving a large chunk of open space that connects to other open space," he said. "Even though the economy is sluggish now, this is close to Atlantic City and could be developed later."
The program has preserves 640,000 acres since it was created in 1961. Tittel said it's important the state find a way to replenish the fund quickly — especially now that the real estate market is suffering and prices are low. All of the money in the Green Acres Fund is now appropriated for projects, he said.
“Our open space programs have been successful for over 50 years, we must not let them come to an end,” he said. “There must be a new stable source of funding otherwise there will be more sprawl and pollution and we will lose our last remaining open spaces."
The DEP declined to comment on the project.
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