New Program Will Protect Open Space From Rapid Advance of Sprawl
New York, NY - January 21, 2003 - On January 21, the Open Space Institute and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation announced a major conservation financing program that will protect environmentally threatened areas in the state of New Jersey.
The announcement was made at the Old Barracks Museum in Trenton, New Jersey. The museum is located in close proximity to the Sourlands Mountains, where the Open Space Institute and the Dodge Foundation extended their first loan under the auspices of the newly launched program. The loan was made to the Delaware & Raritan Greenway, which conserves land in central New Jersey. Much of the D & R's (www.delrargreenway.org) work takes place in the Delaware River watershed, an important environmental resource and an area linked to the Revolutionary War, making the Old Barracks a fitting locale for this morning's news.
The program marks a new strategic direction for the Open Space Institute, a New York City based conservation group. Since it's founding in 1974, OSI has focused on land acquisition and protection efforts in New York's Hudson River Valley. With this new initiative---the New Jersey Conservation Loan Program---OSI is extending its reach to the state of New Jersey. “The statistics speak for themselves,” said Joe Martens, President of OSI. “New Jersey has the highest percentage of developed land in the country, in addition to being very densely populated. As advocates for open space, we simply cannot ignore our neighbor, particularly in light of the state's valuable watersheds and wildlife habitats,” added Martens.
The N. J. Conservation Loan Program will provide “bridge loans” to non-profit organizations working to preserve open space in New Jersey. The use of such loans represents a relatively new approach to the pressing need for anti-sprawl initiatives. A $2.5 million loan fund, established through a Program Related Investment (PRI) by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation (www.grdodge.org), will be administered by the Open Space Institute, effective immediately.
“Our shared goal is quick and concerted action in the state of New Jersey,” said Robert Perry, Director of the Foundation's Environment and Welfare of Animals Programs. Mr. Perry cited recent statistics from Rutgers' Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. “New Jersey is headed toward a complete buildout within thirty to sixty years. To protect our most valued open spaces, we need to think creatively about financing options for preservation efforts that are time-sensitive,” added Perry.
Too often, land protection deals are stymied at the eleventh hour because funding is not available at the time of closing. The Conservation Loan Program will offer a bridge loan in such situations to qualifying organizations. Loans will typically exceed $200,000 with a low interest rate of three percent. “Land is being lost at a rapid rate and development deals are going through by the minute. This is why our ability to respond quickly will be critical to our success,” said Perry. Joe Martens of OSI added that growing demand associated with New Jersey's Green Acres program had created inevitable funding delays. “The conservation loan program is in its true sense a bridge that will buy time. Immediacy----our ability to respond quickly to encroachment and sprawl----will be the measure of our success in the 21st century.”
The New Jersey Conservation Loan Program will have a geographic emphasis on three ecologically critical areas: the New Jersey Highlands, Pinelands, and Delaware Bayshore. However, that geography is not exclusive. “We have signaled to the environmental community in the state that we will review applications that present compelling opportunities to protect natural resources, even when those projects are located outside of our areas of concern,” said Martens. Applications for loans will be assessed for their strategic value and priority will be given to projects that enhance the regional or local landscape. Lands that connect or expand existing protected areas will be of utmost importance.
In December, OSI made its first loan to the Delaware & Raritan Greenway. “We were very grateful that the OSI/Dodge fund was there when we needed it. This was a classic example of a great project that was in jeopardy due to lack of state funding at closing time,” said Linda Mead, Executive Director of the Delaware & Raritan Greenway. The D & R used the bridge loan to purchase a conservation easement on 58 acres of woodlands and stream headwaters in the Sourland Mountains. The area provides critical habitat for neotropical migratory birds that breed in the Sourlands in the Summer and winter as far south as Mexico and Costa Rica. “We felt passionately about protecting this important refuge, which is located near some of the state's busiest highways and increasingly threatened by development,” added Mead.
Commenting on the value of the program to the state's Green Acre goals for open space, Carol Ash, Executive Director of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, said, “The New Jersey Conservation Loan Program couldn't come at a better time. This is a great program because it's enterprising and highly collaborative, which is just what we need.”
Founded in 1974, the Open Space Institute is a nonprofit organization that protects significant recreational, environmental, agricultural, and historic landscapes for public benefit. Since its inception, OSI has permanently protected over 70,000 acres throughout New York's Hudson River Valley; assisted in the protection of close to 600,000 acres in the Northern Forest, which encompasses critical wilderness areas in NY, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine; and launched a Conservation Loan Program to protect open spaces in New Jersey, which has more developed land than any other state in the nation.
The mission of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation (www.grdodge.org) is to support and encourage those educational, cultural, social and environmental values that contribute to making our society more humane and our world more livable. The Dodge Foundation is committed to preserving the essential natural resources upon which all healthy societies depend: air, water, soil, wildlife and, in particular, open space.