Policy Notes: January 2024
Enduring Legacies in the Pinelands. Policy Notes are designed to update the public on the activities of the Pinelands Commission, which have been summarized by Pinelands Preservation Alliance staff who attend all public meetings of the Commission.
By Heidi YehFebruary 8, 2024
More than Just a Coincidence that Turf Grass Rhymes with P-FAS?
A single application was up this month for public comment at the Pinelands Commission: Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District is applying to replace one of its natural grass sports fields with an artificial turf grass field. Comments focused on the carcinogenic potential of artificial turfgrass, which typically contains PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances). This class of chemicals is often referred to as ‘forever chemicals’, given the characteristic way that PFAS persist and accumulate in the environment and in our bodies.
Recent reporting on decades of astro-turf use for Philadelphia baseball found that Phillies team-members who have played on the Vet’s artificial turf suffer “roughly triple the rate of brain cancers for the overall adult male population” (Philadelphia Inquirer, March 2023 article). There is also the question of how to dispose of the material at the end of its life—these materials have been around since the 1960’s, and need to be replaced every 8-10 years, yet aspirations to recycle the material have remained elusive; meanwhile, our neighboring state of Pennsylvania has become a dumping ground for decaying turf (Philadelphia Inquirer, December 2023 article).
During the public comment period for this application to the Pinelands Commission, two comments were submitted that focused on the PFAS threat posed by artificial turf grass. PPA Public Lands Advocate Jason Howell spoke against the application on a personal note: as a resident of the town, his daughter will likely attend the school one day and would be exposed to whatever chemicals are contained therein.
The Pinelands Commission seems poised to approve of the application at their February 9th meeting—the meeting packet includes a report and letter from staff to the Commissioners recommending its approval (see page 36-40). The response to public comments was that “The Commission has previously approved numerous applications proposing the installation of artificial turf athletic fields in the Pinelands Area. Historically, the Commission has not regulated the composition of construction materials such as road pavement, concrete and building products.”
It’s true that the Pinelands CMP has yet to address this issue in any way. Banning the use of artificial turf-grass could be a good place to start. This move would be especially consequential in the Pinelands, where the drinking water resources of millions of people are directly exposed to whatever contamination occurs at the surface.
The threat that PFAS pose to the health of humans and the environment is still being studied, but all indications point to poor health outcomes and persistent environmental contamination. The threat is great enough to have spurred recent action by the U.S. EPA and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection. The U.S. EPA is currently considering classifying several PFAS as toxic substances that are hazardous to human health.
The NJDEP recently published a literature review on the specific question of PFAS contamination from artificial turf grass; studies of artificial turf grass have consistently detected PFAS, but there is a lack of long-term studies characterizing how much of this actually leaches into the surrounding environment. The document points to an even larger potential contamination threat from the manufacture and disposal of artificial turf grass, which should also be considered.
Given the mounting evidence of the harms of PFAS and its prevalent use in artificial turf grass, it’s about time to reconsider whether it’s a good idea to continue its use. Let’s save the headache (and literal brain-cancer) of future remediation by discontinuing its use today.
Enduro Events Enduring Criticism
“What is it about enduro activity that preserves or protects or enhances the forest?” Commissioner Lohbauer posed this question about enduro events—a motorcycle sport that occurs in the Pinelands—at the most recent meeting of Policy & Implementation (P&I) Committee of the Pinelands Commission.
Are enduro events incompatible with the Commission’s mission to preserve, protect, or enhance the Pinelands? This question is at the heart of a self-examination that the Pinelands Commission has been undergoing after decades of regulating and approving this activity. The P&I committee recently discussed the opportunities and challenges presented by enduro events following a presentation by Commissioner Lohbauer at their September 2023 meeting, which we summarized previously.
Thomas Hedden of the East Coast Enduro Association gave a presentation to the P&I Committee at their January 2024 meeting (watch the recording here). Thomas presented the history and the sports’ economic impact, describing enduros as a ‘generational sport’ with shared traditions that bring Pinelands communities together. It also drives local economic activity from tourists visiting from out-of-state. Enduro events have been happening in one form or another since 1918, with the first “official” Sandy Lane Enduro occurring in 1934.
Both sides agreed that the forest is a resource that needs to be protected. Thomas emphasized that all human activities in the Pinelands have an impact, including everything from motorcycles to runners. However, the noise and emissions of this activity can be particularly acute. Commissioner Lohbauer proposed that riders could transition from internal combustion engines to electric bikes, thus reducing the noise and air pollution associated with these events. Thomas agreed that he would like an electric alternative for a quieter riding experience, but cited legal limitations on what types of vehicles the state of New Jersey allows to be street-legal. A key feature of enduro events is that all participants must be riding registered, street-legal vehicles. Whatever restrictions may exist at the NJDOT or NJDEP would need to be addressed before electric bikes can participate in enduros.
The combustibility of electric bikes also remains a relative unknown; despite headlines that may suggest otherwise, electric cars are actually the least likely to catch on fire in the event of a collision, when compared to hybrid and internal combustion engines. If the statistics hold true for electric bikes as well, then the change to electric bikes could represent an improvement in fire safety. However, the data on electric vehicles is limited by their relatively small numbers (only about 0.86% of all vehicles registered in the US are electric). The data is likely even more sparse for electric bikes, and would not represent the unique conditions of trail riding.
Inevitably, the topic of illegal offroad vehicle use was discussed. Although the enduros themselves are highly regulated, many people see these events as encouraging repeat visits outside of that context. The ECEA shares the public’s frustration with illegal ORV use in the Pinelands, as Thomas stated that “everyone on a bike is us”—meaning that they understand that any illegal ORV activity will be perceived as a reflection of their group, whether or not there is any actual connection to the ECEA.
Pinelands Municipal Council Watch
Months since the council last met: 16
Still no word on the once rumored rebirth of the Pinelands Municipal Council (PMC). The council did get a recent mention in the context of a land dispute that is currently ongoing in Chatsworth:
According to reporting by the Pine Barrens Tribune, the land-owner invoked participation in the Pinelands Municipal Council as a necessity for the town: “’if we are taking things before the Pinelands Commission involving the municipality, especially in regard to its search for ratables, it is important to have someone from a township committee standpoint knowing what is happening over there.’” In the following exchange, the town mayor seemed to be only vaguely familiar with the council, having participated in past years. Neither he nor the land-owner seemed to be aware that the council had been defunct for years. Read more about the problems that have plagued the council in the past, such as a lack of engagement and poor attendance, on our blog.
Who made you the boss, anyway?
An important step to reviving the council is determining where it came from in the first place. The only mention of the Pinelands Municipal Council in the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) is section 7:50-7.6, which requires that any amendments to the CMP first be submitted to the PMC for review at least 60 days prior to the Commission taking a final vote. However, any influence that the council may have is likely in the realm of public comment—they can make recommendations that can be considered in the final vote, but their input (or lack thereof) is not required for the Commission to take action.
The PMC was actually established by NJ state law, between the sections that established the Pinelands Commission and required that a Comprehensive Management Plan be written. N.J.S.A. 13:18A-7 established the PMC, and mandated that it have the following properties:
- Council members are mayors, or their designees. No recourse is provided for the interested public to maintain municipal participation if the mayor just loses interest.
- Meetings are called by the chairperson of the council or a majority of its members. Although it shouldn’t be hard to figure out who the representative for each town is (see the last point), one impediment to restarting the council has been the fact that we simply do not know who its members are. This contact list is inaccessible, along with all of the other administrative documents and bank accounts for the council, that were apparently in the hands of one person.
- A fifteen member quorum is required to conduct council business. With 54 member municipalities, this means that only 28% of the possible attendees need to show up for a meeting. Even with this relatively low bar, 2 of the 6 PMC meetings that were called in 2019 were unable to proceed due to a lack of quorum.
- There are several points concerning when the Council should review potential Commission actions. This language seems stronger than that of the CMP, mandating that the Council “shall state its position to the commission and to all members of the council within 60 days” of receiving materials for review, such as potential amendments to the CMP. This seems to imply that a response from the council is required. However, the consequences for failing to do this are unclear.
We at PPA think it is clear that the statute governing the PMC needs an update. This law was last amended in 1995, when an additional provision describing how council officers should be elected was added (N.J.S.A. 13:18A-7.1). Changes should correct the problems that have plagued the Council in the past and pave the way for a new PMC to function effectively.
First-ever MOA approved for a handicap-accessible trail in the Pinelands
Pemberton township now has a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Pinelands Commission to implement accessibility improvements to a trail around Pemberton Lake. This will be done in cooperation with PPA; learn more about our Pinelands is for Everyone initiative on our website. The township will still need to file a full application with more specific details from their construction plan, but this MOA is an important first step. PPA is advocating that amendments be made to the CMP to improve the review of trail improvements that have no actual negative environmental impacts; current regulations, as interpreted by the Commission staff, were not written with this situation in mind and do a poor job of addressing the specific concerns associated accessible trail improvements.
Read a press release from the Pinelands Commission for more information.
State of the Pinelands
PPA’s annual State of the Pinelands report has been released, summarizing notable activities affecting the Pinelands during the year gone by. You can pick up a physical copy at our visitor center (check calendar for hours), or read the digital version and the following coverage by various news outlets online:
NJ Spotlight News found here.
The Sun Newspaper found here.
Asbury Park Press found here.
POLITICO (Not the featured topic, part of a weekly newsletter) found here.