Water Works* recently published an article about Petty's Island, the piece of land off Pennsauken which has stirred up some controversey in this year's gubernatorial election. If you don't know the story of Petty's Island, the environmental and development issues being discussed, I suggest a start here. This New York Times article, reprinted on Garden State EnviroNet (not behind the paywall!), has a full discussion of both sides of the issue. Bloomburg.com has a slightly shorter one here.
To incredibly oversimplify:
The environmentalists want to preserve the island for pairs of rare and endangered nesting birds (including a pair of bald eagles.) Citgo wants to donate it as protected land and clean it up, avoiding some environmental-damage fines and getting nice clean PR. But, some doubt the environmental value of land that has seen such contamination and in such a location.
Pennsauken wants to put 2700 homes, a big golf course, a conference center, office and retail space on a small island with a great view of the Philadelphia skyline, preserving a portion of the island for wildlife, using an "environmentally sensitive" developer. The NJ DEP is ok with this. But, the developers have shown barely any environmental consideration so far. Many environmental groups also feel that any but total conservation of the island is too little.
There are solid legal issues and ethical questions on both sides, as well. If I go into all of them here, I won't have saved you 30 seconds compared with reading the above-mentioned articles, so go read them.
Here's where the candidates step in. Doug Forrester is against development of Petty's Island. Why? Well, his stance is a "transparent political ploy," and his "motives may not have been pure," according to a Home News Tribune article cited on his own web site. (Um, someone should be reading this stuff all the way through before it gets posted.) It's interesting to see him against development and for an environmental cause, going against the stereotypical Republican grain. Standing with an oil company? Well, that we expect.
Sen. Jon Corzine is more restrained- basically, we need to study it more. "Corzine has reserved judgment on the island, saying it might not be wise for the state to accept owner Citgo Petroleum Corp.'s offer to donate the land for a park if it means letting the oil company off the hook for toxic cleanup there." (Phily Inquirer) He also wrote an op-ed piece to that effect about two weeks ago, but it's behind the paywall now. Now, Forrester's folks feel this is all due to the influence of George Norcross, who is from Pennsauken and supported the developement from the beginning. Corzine has a perfect rating on the League of Conservation Voters' National Environmental Scorecard for his voting record in Washington, as well as the support of the Sierra Club for his candidacy- so, what's up here?
From Water Works: "Someday, one of us may see a bald eagle soar over Independence Hall. Or perhaps a kid in Camden might see one on a day when it matters most, a reminder that his world is a lot bigger than Camden. I imagine Ben Franklin would have admired the vision it takes to keep eagles nesting in that stretch of the river, by the bridge that bears his name. Instead of eagles on Petty’s Island, Pennsauken’s visionaries and our visionaries in Trenton would rather see – shopping."
Environmental damage has been done to Petty's Island, serious damage. But eagles appearing there show that Nature has begun to retake the land. Get this land designated a protected area, have Citgo do whatever they can to clean it up, and leave it the hell alone after that. For Pennsauken, of course they must continue to work on urban renewal- just do it on the mainland, with views of your own nature preserve as a highlight. Don't just turn this salvagable island into another condo development and suburban mall.
(Big tip o' the hat to Ron Gutkowski for information in this post.)
*Water Works is- well, it can tell you better than I can: "Water Works tells the story of the fight to protect one of the most environmentally sensitive watersheds in New Jersey. The series began in response to a state Department of Environmental Protection plan to increase the amount of water mined from the headwaters of Lockatong Creek, near the village of Quakertown in Franklin Township. Water Works appeared in the Hunterdon County News from March, 2003 to May, 2004. It is now produced independently, providing reports and commentary on a wider range of issues concerning water in New Jersey and beyond, while the story of Lockatong Creek continues."