State Appellate Court Blocks Mining Operation in Pinelands

Tom Johnson | October 12, 2017 | Energy & Environment
Court finds Pinelands Commission’s rejection of project was justified because it did not conform to region’s Comprehensive Management Plan

A state appeals court yesterday upheld a decision by the Pinelands Commission to block approval of a mining operation in Jackson Township by a local planning board.

In a 12-page ruling, the court found the commission’s rejection of the project was justified because it failed to conform with the agency’s Comprehensive Management Plan, which does not permit mining operations in parts of the Pinelands designated as “forest areas.’’

The area where the building would have occurred had been zoned as “rural development’’ until a task force within the commission had recommended changing it to the forest-area designation in 2003; it was changed by the township two years later.

An owner of a portion of the property that had been rezoned challenged the action, and won his case when the court found the owner had not been properly notified of the change. It sent the case back to the township, which once again adopted the more restrictive land-use designation.

Subsequently, however, the planning board approved the application by Peg Leg Webb, LLC to build its so-called resource extraction facility, based on the assumption the court decision had left the area with a rural development designation. Peg Leg Webb acquired the property prior to the court decision, which remanded the matter back to the township.

The dispute eventually ended up before the Pinelands Commission, where it was given to an administrative law judge to adjudicate. The developer argued the project was submitted for review when the area was designated for less restrictive zoning, and thus should be approved.

In its ruling, however, the appeals court found the CMP trumps municipal land-use laws, siding with the commission’s decision that the local board’s approval did not conform with the minimum standards of the plan.