County partners with DOD in land preservation effort

Long concerned over encroachment issues affecting area military bases, Ocean County is poised to partner with the U.S. Department of Defense in preserving more than 200 acres of open space in the area of the Joint Base McGuire, Fort Dix, Lakehurst.

“Two parcels of property on Long Swamp Road in Plumsted Township are being considered for open space preservation,” said Ocean County Freeholder Director John C. Bartlett Jr., who serves as liaison to the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund Advisory Committee.

“Not only are the properties’ attributes consistent with the county’s open space program, but it will assist the military in its efforts to minimize any impact the base operations may have on area communities,” Bartlett said.

According to a press release from the county, the properties being considered are 121 acres along Long Swamp Road currently owned by Albert N. Vera, Tuckerton, and a 99-acre parcel along Long Swamp Road owned by 53 Green Street LLC, New York. The properties’ purchase prices are $280,000 and $700,000, respectively.

Both parcels are in close proximity to several farms already preserved under the Ocean County open space program.

“The purchase helps us to increase open space in Plumsted Township, which already has acres and acres of preserved farmland,” Bartlett said.

As part of the partnership with the Department of Defense, the county expects 50 percent of the acquisition cost to be paid for by the military, according to the press release.

“This partnership shows our commitment to the joint base and the military’s commitment to continue to work with Ocean County,” said Freeholder John P. Kelly, who serves as director of law and public safety.

The properties are either directly on the Fort Dix military boundary or a short distance from it.

“The purchase helps to minimize future encroachments to base operations,” Kelly said.

Kelly noted that Ocean County recently completed a joint land-use study with the military bases and surrounding municipalities and Burlington County.

“That study identified the preservation of certain lands as important to provide a buffer for the bases, and these properties are consistent with that recommendation,” Kelly said.

“The joint land-use study provides us with a regional approach to land use as it affects the military bases and the surrounding communities,” said Freeholder Gerry P. Little, who serves as liaison to the Ocean County Planning Department. “The benefits of this study include looking at the needs of the military bases and the needs of the surrounding communities and working together to merge those needs.”

Ocean County has partnered in the past with Navy Lakehurst in purchasing open space in an effort to ease encroachment concerns.

“This will be our first partnership in purchasing lands bordering what will be the joint base,” Kelly said. “Ocean County government has had a strong relationship with Navy Lakehurst and we have worked closely with the base to make sure it remains viable for both homeland security and the economic benefits it provides to the region.

“Now that it is part of the joint base installation, with McGuire Air Force Base and Fort Dix, we want to continue that relationship,” he added.