Ocean City councilman Bob Barr, whose appointment to the state Pinelands Commission in 2014 came amid a series of controversial votes over natural gas pipelines, has stepped down from the 15-member board that oversees New Jersey’s largest nature reserve.
Barr, also chairman of the Ocean City Housing Authority, announced Saturday he is resigning from the commission after being appointed by then-Gov. Chris Christie five years ago.
He cited changes in his professional and personal life as reasons for the move. The Housing Authority is gearing up to build a new, 32-unit affordable-housing development for seniors at Sixth Street and West Avenue, which he said will take up a “lion’s share of his time.”
“I wasn’t giving proper attention to the Pinelands Commission,” he said by phone Saturday.
Barr’s resignation comes as Gov. Phil Murphy looks to replace Christie’s Pinelands appointees following pressure from environmentalists. Last month, the governor replaced commission Chairman Sean Earlen, who previously voted in favor of two pipelines that would run through the 1.1 million-acre nature reserve.
Barr, a former legislative aide to then-state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, voted in favor of a South Jersey Gas pipeline that would run through the Pinelands from Maurice River Township to the B.L. England plant in Upper Township.
But he said Murphy’s office has not reached out to him and his decision was “purely personal.”
“There was no pressure from the Governor’s Office,” he said.
Murphy is nominating Jennifer Coffey to replace Barr, environmental groups have said. Coffey is executive director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions and former policy director for the Watershed Institute.
The need for a pipeline has since been negated by the closing of the B.L. England plant in May.
During his time on the commission, Barr said he sought to help stop off-road vehicle damage in the Pinelands. The tires from off-road and all-terrain vehicles can make dirt roads muddy and hard to navigate.
Barr said he and others on the board developed maps to identify which roads in state forests are off limits to such vehicles.
“Seeing the photos of the damage was disturbing,” he said. “More still needs to be done.”
State Sen. Bob Andrzejczak, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, praised Barr’s decision to step down.
“Bob has always been a tireless advocate for South Jersey,” Andrzejczak said in a statement. “With his expanded responsibilities to his constituents in Ocean City, he wanted to make sure he could bring all of his focus there.”
Jeff Tittel, president of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said recent changes to the commission are a step in the right direction.
“Barr was a nice man, but I don’t think he should have been on the commission,” Tittel said.
Gubernatorial appointees to the commission must be approved by the state Senate.