N.J. governor nominates two conservationists to Pinelands Commission

In this June 30, 2018, file photo, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, (left), discusses his state budget deal with Democratic legislative leaders, as state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, (right), listens during a news conference in Trenton, N.J. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo, File)

In this June 30, 2018, file photo, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, (left), discusses his state budget deal with Democratic legislative leaders, as state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, (right), listens during a news conference in Trenton, N.J. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo, File)

Gov. Phil Murphy has nominated two conservationists to the Pinelands Commission, taking steps to recast the state agency that oversees the more than 1 million-acre preserve.

In nominations to several bodies announced late Friday evening in a press release, the governor suggested the appointment of Kelly Mooij and Theresa Lettman to the commission. Both are subject to the approval of the Senate.

In making the nominations, Murphy is moving to address concerns raised by most of the state’s leading environmental organizations, who have been pressing him since last fall to remake the commission where holdovers from the administration of former Gov. Chris Christie had been serving expired terms.

Both nominees are well-known in the environmental community. Mooij is vice president of government affairs for New Jersey Audubon and was a pivotal figure in winning approval of a constitutional amendment in 2014 to create a stable source of funding for open space and farmland preservation in the state.

They’re needed to ‘stop dangerous development’

Lettman is a former staff member of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance and trustee of the Natural Lands Trust. She would replace Candace Ashmun, the longest-serving member of the commission and an advocate for the preserve for more than four decades.

“These appointments are just what the Pinelands Commission needs — members who will prioritize the planning of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, stop dangerous development and promote smart growth that protects the Pinelands,’’ said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.

The Pinelands, the largest intact coastal ecosystem between New Hampshire and Virginia, is widely viewed as a national treasure by conservationists. It is home to rare plants found nowhere else, and trillions of gallons of pristine water lie underneath much of the region.

Its future, however, has come under scrutiny amid fears that some of the protections governing land use in the Pinelands have been undermined. Decisions to permit new natural gas pipelines through parts of the region have been hotly contested, sparking lengthy litigation.

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