TOMS RIVER – Wednesday’s Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting saw environmentalists grill Freeholder Director Joe Vicari and the rest of the board over the Ocean County Pinelands Commission representative, Alan Avery, who was appointed by the freeholders. The freeholders, county counsel and county administrator all pushed back, with John Bartlett reaffirming his support for Avery despite the rhetoric from the environmentalists.
Activist Walks 37-Mile Proposed High-Pressure Natural Gas Pipeline Route, Requests Freeholders Remove Alan Avery From Pinelands
One environmentalist who urged the freeholders to oppose the pipeline and replace Avery began his day Wednesday by walking portions of the proposed route of the high-pressure natural gas pipeline, which will traverse portions of Lakehurst, Jackson and Manchester townships in Ocean County. We followed Karlos Bassak as he walked from Lakehurst along the pipeline route to Toms River, stopping at the proposed eastern terminus of the Southern Reliability Link (SRL) high-pressure natural gas pipeline. Bassak’s walk was a part of a 37-mile journey along the pipeline’s route, in an effort raise awareness about alleged safety hazards of the SRL proposal. He would eventually find himself at the Ocean County freeholder meeting scheduled at 4:00 p.m. that day, where he and other environmental activists pleaded with the freeholders to terminate Alan Avery from the Pinelands Commission, citing Avery’s past support for natural gas pipelines.
Bassak has walked the entire length of the pipeline in an effort to demonstrate the importance of the sensitive plants and wildlife that are located along the proposed route of the pipeline, which traverses portions of Burlington, Monmouth and Ocean Counties. As he walked along the route and later along Route 37 in Toms River, Bassak carried a sign criticizing the New Jersey Pinelands Commission for their handling of the pipeline approval process.
“If we could arouse enough awareness of what this pipeline really represents, not the propaganda, but the actual dangers that will be there maybe we can have them change their mind and dismiss Avery,” Bassak told a reporter as he walked along Route 37 before the meeting.
“Things are alive,” Bassak said of the life along the pipeline route that he walked. “I see that as all now under threat because of this proposed pipeline,” he told the Ocean County freeholders.
“It’s become a choice,” Bassak explained. “We have a choice, we can be pro-life or we can be pro-corporation. That choice is not just for you, but the whole country.”
He asked them to reconsider their appointment of Alan W. Avery to the New Jersey Pinelands Commission. Avery is a current member of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission and was appointed by the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders. His term will be up again in 2018, when the freeholders will have the option to either reappoint Avery, or put someone else in the position on the state land use panel.
Carol Gay, President of the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council, also joined Bassak and other members of the public in calling for Avery’s removal.
“He has been voting in violation of the New Jersey Pinelands Protection Act, in violation of the Comprehensive Management Plan, and in violation of his oath to protect, preserve and enhance this precious New jersey treasure, our New Jersey Pinelands.”
“Since he is voting against the interests of the Pinelands, again I would appeal to you to remove him,” Gay said. “Advise him that he should protect the Pinelands, not the pipelines through the Pinelands. Perhaps he should resign.”
“You should speak up all of you loudly and clearly to protect the Pinelands,” she told the freeholders.
Bartlett Pushes Back, Defends Avery
For their part, the Ocean County Freeholders were resistant to the requests of the environmental activists present from the Pinelands Action Network.
Freeholder Director Vicari emphasized that he wanted to allow both sides of the pipeline issue to have an opportunity to be heard, but stressed the freeholder board’s purported inability to take action to influence an independent state commission.
Ocean County Administrator Carl Block went further, and stated that it would not be a good precedent to set to have the freeholders controlling appointed officials on a project-by-project basis.
Sahradnik: “Inappropriate” For Freeholders To Direct Avery’s Pipeline Vote
“We cannot use our influence on anyone that’s on an autonomous board,” Freeholder Director Joe Vicari said, before deferring to Ocean County Counsel Jack Sahradnik.
Sahradnik echoed Vicari’s sentiment and told the freeholders that it would not be appropriate to attempt to influence how Avery votes as a member of the Pinelands Commission.
“As I’ve said before, it’s inappropriate for this board to influence or direct any member of the Pinelands Commission how to vote on a matter,” he said.
Sahradnik said that the commission is expected to take a vote on the SRL pipeline in the next two weeks, and that the public record for comments has closed.
Freeholder John Bartlett, who has been a county freeholder since 1979, defended Mr. Avery, citing his working and personal relationship with Avery during his tenure on the board.
“I’ve known Alan Avery for 37 years,” Freeholder Bartlett pushed back. “He is a professional planner, he is a man with immense integrity. He was the planning director of ocean county for many years. He was the county administrator. I count him as a good friend. He is a bright man and in many cases a brilliant man. And I would never suggest to you or anyone else that it would be in my domain to tell him what he ought to do.”
“If Alan Avery wanted to be reappointed to the Pinelands Commission, he’s served many many years as its deputy director, I would be the first to make the nomination and to vote for him,” Bartlett declared.
The other Pinelands Commission representative from Ocean County, Lacey Committeeman Gary Quinn (a former freeholder hopeful), is also expected to vote in favor of the pipeline, as he did in past votes.