The New Jersey Sierra Club has submitted comments to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection Agency opposing the agency’s proposed land swap with the Central Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club (attached). The proposal is to transfer approximately 43.05 acres of land that the DEP owns in Jackson Township exchange for approximately 86.8 acres of land owned by the Club in Upper Freehold Township.
“This is a bad deal for New Jersey and open space. The state is giving away to the Central Jersey Rifle Club that they have already polluted in exchange for a less valuable property. The gun club has already polluted this land, and now they want to take ownership so that they don’t have to be responsible for cleaning it up. What’s worse is that they’ll be taking away public access because the land swap includes the road to the Club,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The lead from bullets and spent ammunition at the Rifle Club is impacting the Colliers Mills WMA. It is running off into C1 streams, leaching into the soil, and poisoning wildlife. The noise from the gun range also impacts people hiking and enjoying the wildlife refuge.”
The property owned by the Club and proposed for conveyance to the DEP is in Upper Freehold Township next to the Pleasant Run WMA. The land was purchased by the Club in February 2019 for $246,086.22. According to the Proposed Land Exchange Report, the Club’s land in Upper Freehold is valued at $2,652.07 per acre while the DEP’s land in Jackson Township is valued at $3,500 per acre.
“The DEP was originally looking at buying the property for $246,000. Instead, they let the Gun Club buy the property to use for the land swap. This is almost as if it is a set up. The land is not of equal value, it is landlocked and environmentally-sensitive with wetlands. It makes no sense that they let the Gun Club buy the land for the sole purpose of making a land swap. This needs to be looked into more,” said Tittel. “We are also concerned that the contract doesn’t include a conservation easement or a stipulation to prevent development. Usually, like with Hamburg Mountain, they have language to prevent development so that the land is preserved for conservation or recreational purposes. The fact that they didn’t do that in this case raises more red flags.”
The DEP property in Jackson Township is currently part of the Colliers Mills Wildlife Management Area. According to the DEP, a portion of the Jackson Township property has been polluted by the accumulation of lead discharge at an adjacent shooting range operated by the Central Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club. The land exchange would include creating a buffer between the WMA and the range to ensure the safety of the public.
“Lead shot or bullets are usually either pure lead or made up of lead alloys that contain other harmful chemicals like arsenic and hydrocarbons. These pollutants get into the soil, groundwater wells, and streams and can poison wildlife and impact public health. This is especially concerning because New Jersey has a lead crisis. Lead can also lead to childhood development problems and other serious health issues. Thousands of children are diagnosed with lead poisoning in New Jersey each year,” said Jeff Tittel. “We don’t believe that the land the Gun Club is offering the state is greater or equal value. It is landlocked and environmentally-sensitive with a lot of wetlands. Instead of doing a land swap, the DEP should be closing this rifle club and protecting this public land by forcing them to clean up their mess.”
The dumped materials at the shooting range include shells and other ammunition that contain lead and possibly metals or other chemicals. New Jersey has multiple gun ranges operating on state property. Some trap and skeet ranges have had lead shot densities of 1.5 billion pellets per acre.
“We have 22 gun ranges on state property in New Jersey, and even more on County, Green Acres, and other public lands. We have already seen major contamination issues at these sites. Bergen County was illegally burying lead shot in Campgaw Mountain and Darlington County Parks and across the River from Ramapo Reserve. The EPA had to come in and fine the County to hold them accountable. The land was environmentally sensitive with wetlands and streams that drain into the Ramapo River, which is a water supply source. The County’s reckless actions put public health and the environment at risk,” said Tittel. “In Ringwood, the soil at Thunder Mountain Skeet Range within Ringwood State Park had extremely high levels of lead, arsenic, hydrocarbons, and other toxic chemicals from skeet shooting.”
Comments can be submitted through April 29, 2021. Instructions for how to submit written comments and a copy of a report analyzing the proposed exchange can be found at: http://www.nj.gov/dep/greenacres/notices.html.
“There’s nothing wrong with doing land swaps when it makes sense. In this case, we shouldn’t be letting this private gun club get away with polluting state-owned land. Instead of doing a land swap with this private gun club for land that is less valuable, the DEP should make them clean up their pollution. This is public land that is owned by Green Acres. The DEP should also be getting rid of these polluting and damaging private gun clubs on public land. We should be using this space for passive recreation and activities that don’t harm the environment or public health,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The DEP needs to stop the Colliers Mills bad land swap. The gun club has contaminated state land that is part of a Wildlife Management Area, they should not be let off the hook. We also need to make sure that this never happens again by getting rid of private gun clubs on state land.”