Open space, farmland and historic preservation suffered a terrible blow this summer when the last of the state dollars for projects were allocated and the coffers were emptied. The Garden State Preservation Trust (GSPT), which funds the New Jersey Green Acres Program, is the main engine that keeps preservation efforts viable. Most acquisitions come about as the result of partnerships between Green Acres and counties, municipalities and nonprofit organizations. One stand-out example of a partnership of all of these partner categories is the preservation of the Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain, which could not have happened without all parties on board. There are many other projects waiting in the wings, some of them potential additions to Baldpate.
But the only way these projects can happen is if GSPT is replenished. There will be the opportunity to do exactly that on the November 3rd ballot. The New Jersey Legislature has voted to put the question to the public for a $400 million bond measure to fund GSPT for two years of open space, farmland and historic preservation.
Can we afford to take on a bond obligation at this time? The real question is, can we afford not to. Careful analysis shows the cost would be about $10 per household per year for the 20 years of the bond obligation. Of course, weíre all trying to hold onto every dollar these days. But, how does a ten-fold return on the dollar sound? Thatís what the Trust for Public Land estimates the investment in undeveloped land would pay in goods and services every year. Local farm products, recreational opportunities, and ecosystem services like cleaning the air and water and protecting us from flooding. The cultural benefits of historic preservation. And this is a 20-year investment that will yield in perpetuity. There are other benefits as well: stabilization of property taxes, control of the demand for more and bigger roads to accommodate increased traffic, and the creation of jobs in park improvement and historic restoration projects.
The hiatus in GSPT funding is risky business. There are signs that the housing market is slowly recovering. Prices for developable land will start to climb out of their current trough. All who work in open space, farmland and historic preservation know how to stretch those preservation dollars and can make $400 million go a long way. Letís give them the chance to do so.
What you can do: Pledge now to vote "yes" on November 3rd for the bond measure to fund the preservation programs of the Garden State Preservation Trust (www.state.nj.us/gspt). Convince your friends to do so, too. WCAS is one of 130 members of the Keep It Green Coalition. Follow the campaign at www.NJKeepItGreen.org. To read three white papers describing the benefits, accomplishments and future needs of state preservation programs, go to www.njconservation.org.