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Governor’s veto a plus for agriculture

It’s a sad reality that preserved farmland and open space need saving over and over again. Though secured from housing sprawl development, New Jersey’s preserved farmland often finds itself the target of proposals that would destroy the very natural resource value that prompted its preservation in the first place! Governor Chris Christie deserves credit for his conditional veto of efforts to open up preserved farmland to commercial wind farming.

Assembly Bill 3992 and Senate Bill 2887 would have allowed large, commercial-scale wind turbines on preserved farms in Salem and Cumberland counties, and would have streamlined the process for siting them on farms not yet preserved. The Governor’s conditional veto means he wants certain parts of a bill amended before he’ll sign it. In this case, among other changes, Governor Christie specifically objected to wind turbines being placed on preserved farmland.

The distinction between preserved farmland and unpreserved farmland can be confusing. And no wonder. Except for the green-and-white “Preserved Farmland” signs posted at many preserved farms, they both look alike – fields, barns, pastures, crops, animals.

But if you were to visit your county deed room and look up the deeds on preserved farmland, you’d see that New Jersey’s taxpayers have purchased and retired the development rights to these farms. So even though preserved farms are privately owned, they can never sprout a crop of condos, a strip mall …or a commercial energy generating facility. Because the public – you and I – made an investment to ensure these fertile New Jersey soils will continue to be available for agriculture. Period. Forever. The Legislature should honor that promise.

Farming provides the fresh, healthy food we need and helps keep our economy ticking. Local foods taste better, cost less and help fight climate change by leaving a smaller “carbon footprint” than produce shipped from distant places. Residents of the nation’s most densely populated state should feel secure knowing there will always be large swaths of farmland in this state we’re in. Preserved farmland also helps keep the Garden State’s agricultural heritage because it’s just about the only land in New Jersey that’s even marginally affordable to the next generation of farmers.

Yes, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels by increasing renewable energy is a critical goal. But good intentions for solving one problem should not result in another type of harm. The Governor’s veto was a wise move, because commercial-scale wind turbines were certainly not what New Jerseyans had in mind when they repeatedly voted YES on ballot questions replenishing funding for the Garden State Preservation Trust. This bill would have undermined the public’s billion dollar investment in farmland preservation.

It’s important to note that Governor Christie’s veto won’t prevent the owners of preserved farms from using wind energy to defray their own costs. Preserved farms can still harness wind power on a small scale for their agricultural operations to reduce their farms’ energy costs.

In the end, the Legislature did not accept the Governor’s veto conditions, so none of the wind energy bill became law.

Governor Christie should be applauded for recognizing – and undoing – this bill’s potential to undermine the Garden State’s outstanding farmland preservation program, which has successfully saved more than 190,000 acres of agricultural land. Agriculture must remain the primary use on preserved farmland – forever!