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Middlesex County, NJ: Open Space Trust Fund

Project type:

Environmental

Services:

Due diligence, site investigation/remediation, wetlands assessment, engineering

More green space for a crowded state

Middlesex County Improvement Authority / Middlesex, New Jersey

Opportunity

With more than 1,200 people per square mile, New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the US. Middlesex County is even more crowded, with 2,612 people per square mile.

In 1995, Middlesex County created the Open Space Trust Fund to ensure the availability of badly needed recreational land. Since then, it has preserved about 2,500 acres of farmland and 7,000 acres of open space throughout the county. Members of the Middlesex Country Youth Conservation Corps provide volunteer trail work and tree planting, and assist with conservation efforts on Earth Day and National Trails Day.

A patchwork of land types and regulatory requirements has made acquiring property a challenging process. Land protected by the Trust Fund has included current and former agricultural sites, commercial properties, and residential properties ranging from less than an acre to more than 100 acres. Before it is purchased, each plot is analyzed according to various criteria.

Solution

Since 2006, Mott MacDonald has maintained an on-call contract in support of a multifaceted preacquisition evaluation program that includes the following:

  • Due diligence programs, including performance of Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessments in conformance with ASTME 1527E-05 and New Jersey’s Technical Requirements for Site Remediation 7:26E
  • Wetland reviews, including a feasibility assessment for land uses including conservation, entertainment, passive use, and active use (ballfields, playgrounds, etc.)
  • Lot yield analyses, which consist of determining the number of buildable lots that could be obtained given constraints such as zoning, contamination, wetlands, water bodies, threatened or endangered species and topography

Additional tasks have included these:

  • Performing Phase II/III Assessments (soil sampling via test pits and borings, sediment/surface water sampling and assessments, groundwater evaluation, assessment of prior agricultural usage, etc.)
  • Developing remedial strategies and cost estimates and providing remedial oversight
  • Mapping environmental constraints (wetlands, surface water, environmental contamination, etc.) and providing input on end uses based on identified constraints
  • Technical reporting
  • Coordinating with county and municipal officials, NJDEP technical staff, legal counsel and appraisers associated with overall property valuation tasks

Outcome

Our evaluation projects on behalf of the Open Space Trust Fund include properties in East Brunswick, South Brunswick, Cranbury, Monroe Township, Old Bridge, Perth Amboy, and Sayreville. All evaluation projects have been successfully completed within established budgets and timeframes.

In 2007, Middlesex County purchased 232 acres at Tamarack Hollow in East Brunswick. The property, which includes farmland, wooded areas, ponds, and wetlands, had been targeted for a 57-home development.

“This is great news for the residents of Middlesex County,” said East Brunswick Freeholder Director David B. Crabiel, who noted that new housing would have strained local schools, roads, and other infrastructure. Freeholder Camille Fernicola said, “The environment is well served by this purchase, and our residents have another beautiful swath of land for passive recreation pursuits.” Township Council President Nancy Pinkin said, “It’s like another world there. It’s beautiful, pristine trails.”

In 2010, the county purchased the 27-acre Foerter Farm, one of the few remaining active farms in East Brunswick. The farm had also been targeted for residential development, but residents raised concerns about the impact on the local environment, including Farrington Lake.

Mayor David Stahl of East Brunswick said the Foerter estate would be allowed to continue farming the land. “It’s a beautiful property, and we will certainly continue to farm. But with the lakefront and the vegetation along the lakefront, there’s the possibility of constructing a boardwalk. It would be the perfect nature conservatory.”

In addition to the benefits of relaxation and recreation, the NJ Keep It Green coalition says that every dollar invested in state land preservation returns ten dollars in economic value through natural flood control, water filtration, and other benefits.

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