MILLVILLE — City officials are angered by a unilateral state decision to close the Menantico Ponds Wildlife Area until Sept. 6, a time frame during which the popular outdoor recreation site would be in regular use.
Vice Mayor Joseph Sooy called the closure a “utterly ridiculous” way to exploit public land. New Jersey possesses a large amount of open space in the city, sometimes a source of friction with local officials.
The May 25 shutdown order is from the state department of fish and wildlife. Menantico Ponds off Route 49 is one of five conservation areas that has been closed. Four of the areas are in South Jersey counties.
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The shutdown order cites the need “to protect public safety and natural resources” from “large crowds and unauthorized activities — including swimming and use of all-terrain vehicles.” The division took the same action last year for the same reasons, although that closure lasted until September 15, 2021.
The city commission expects to pass a protest resolution at its next meeting, a suggestion Sooy made during its May 17 session. The resolution would be sent to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, the governor’s office, and state lawmakers.
“So we can use our DEP Fish and Game officers to keep law-abiding citizens out,” Sooy said at the meeting. “They want to fish and kayak. But they cannot arrest the people who break the law.”
On Friday, a DEP spokeswoman replied that there are only nine conservation officers to cover South Jersey. The region has more than 220,000 acres of conservation areas, and the nine enforce regulations on all public lands and private land, she said.
According to the unbundling directive, the closures affect six areas within five management areas.
The five management areas are:
- The “sand factory” at the Cedar Lake WMA, in Monroe Township, Gloucester County;
- the Parkers Pit and Clay Holes areas in Greenwood Forest WMA, in Ocean County;
- Menantico Ponds, including the access road, in Millville, Cumberland County;
- the “cliffs” at Wildcat Ridge WMA, in Rockaway Township, Morris County;
- and the Winslow East or “Hot Mix” section of Winslow WMA in Winslow Township, Camden County.
Joe Smith is a native of NE Philly who was transplanted to South Jersey over 30 years ago and now keeps an eye on the South Jersey government. He is a former editor and current senior staff writer for The Daily Journal in Vineland, Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, and the Burlington County Times.
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