TRENTON – Woolwich Township was among 10 groups that were honored by the Christie Administration in December for their leadership and efforts to improve their communities through green practices designed to protect the environment.
Woolwich Township was recognized for preserving 917 acres across 23 properties during the first eight months of 2017, bringing to more than 3,000 the number of acres protected since the township enacted an open space tax in 2004 and a Transfer of Development Rights program in 2008. Woolwich Township, which once made national headlines as being the fastest-growing community in the Northeast, has taken significant steps to target farmland preservation, forestalling the construction of 690 approved or proposed residential units within its still-rural environs.
Of the land preserved this year in partnership with the State TDR Bank, NJ Farmland Preservation Program and Gloucester County, all but two properties are private farms that will remain that way in perpetuity. The other two will become municipal parkland for conservation and recreation purposes. Additionally, the township plans to preserve an additional 2,600 acres of farmland and open space through its Open Space and Recreation Plan and Public Spaces Plan that was adopted in 2016.
Many of the properties protected this year also will directly benefit State wildlife and conservation goals. They border and buffer important tidal tributaries to the Delaware River, helping to protect woodland, coastal bluffs, grassland meadows and emergent wetland habitat. In total, Woolwich Township, its State and County partners, have connected more than 1,000 acres of farmland in a contiguous greenway of preserved land, benefiting wildlife habitats and providing economic viability to the community’s growing agricultural industries for farming and agritourism.
“In New Jersey the race for open space will either be won or lost in places like Woolwich,” said Matt Blake, the Township’s Director of Community Development. “Thankfully, we’ve seen several administrations in the township that understand the importance of protecting the community’s agricultural heritage and natural resources. Without that continued commitment, the alternative would be more costly sprawl, and diminished quality of life and community character that make Woolwich so desirable.”
Other Excellence Award winners included a bi-state agency that switched its entire vehicle fleet to biodiesel to reduce emissions and promote clean air, an Ocean County municipal utilities authority working on a protection and restoration plan for a river watershed that impacts seven communities in two Shore counties; and a Bergen County hospital system that leverages community partnership to improve its sustainability.
“I congratulate this year’s winners on their wide-ranging efforts to have a positive impact on New Jersey’s environment,” Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said. “From a child’s cleanup in her neighborhood to very large organizations sharing best practices with community partners, these honorees are setting outstanding examples of what it means to commit to environmental protection. We salute their leadership.”
The Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards are the state’s premier environmental awards program for recognizing outstanding environmental performance, programs and projects in the state. Including today’s event, the GEEA program has recognized 170 winners since 2000. The awards program is sponsored by DEP, the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust and the New Jersey Corporation for Advanced Technology, in partnership with the New Jersey League of Municipalities
A panel of judges reviewed and scored nominations that featured unique or valuable environmental projects and activities. To learn more about the GEEA program, visit: www.nj.gov/dep/eeawards/