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Freeholders approve county buying land for airport birds

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GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Atlantic County freeholders on Tuesday approved an agreement to purchase at least 65 acres for the South Jersey Transportation Authority to replace habitat for grassland birds at Atlantic City International Airport.

The SJTA got permission earlier this year from the state Pinelands Commission to stop maintaining grassland it managed for 15 years at the airport for the state-threatened grasslands sparrow and state-endangered upland sandpiper, because of safety concerns of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The former grasslands will be available as a site for an aviation academy, where students can learn aircraft maintenance and repair, Freeholder Director Amy Gatto said.

The FAA had determined bird habitat on airports attracted too many birds that could pose a danger to aircraft if they are sucked into the engines on runways.

The county will use Open Space Trust Fund money for the purchase, said Assistant County Counsel Tony Pagano, and the land will become a county park dedicated to preservation of grassland species.

But Tuesday’s vote does not commit the county to spending any particular amount of money.

If the appropriate land can’t be found or if the price is deemed too high after a county appraisal review, the county will not make a purchase, Pagano said.

“We have heard from airlines looking to do maintenance operations. They would like to be at Pomona but want a trained workforce,” he said. “The program has to be certified and on the grounds of the airport. Philadelphia is the closest school to us.”

The next step is approval of the memorandum of agreement by the SJTA board, and then the county will begin searching for an appropriate plot of land of at least 65 acres, Pagano said. The Pinelands Commission will have to approve it as good habitat for the species affected.

The meeting was held at Stockton University, as the freeholders are visiting different parts of the county for meetings.

Also Tuesday, a group of residents from Motts Creek Road in Galloway Township came to the meeting to again request help in stopping speeders on their street. It’s particularly dangerous between 6 and 11 p.m. because of drivers leaving the waterfront Motts Creek Inn at the end of the dead end road, they said, who not only speed but are frequently on their phones or texting.

The county recently repaved the road, which has made the problem worse, residents said. Potholes had previously slowed drivers.

John Peterson, the county’s director of planning and development, said the county has put flashing signs on the road and will be putting speed signs out soon to let people know how fast they are going. But he said speed bumps are not allowed on county roads under county regulations, because of liability issues.

The freeholders, however, agreed to look into the possibility of making an exception to the rule, and will study it in their roads and bridges committee.

“The speed bump issue is really serious. Small children live on that street,” said Ruth Black, who said she mows property along the side of the road that belongs to others so she will have a place to walk her dog off the road.

“You have many people texting and looking at phones coming from the bar,” she said. “They are speeding down the street. Anything could happen.”

Meanwhile, Freeholder Frank Formica said he will ask the county Sheriff’s Office to patrol the road.

Contact: 609-272-7219

mpost@pressofac.com

Twitter @MichelleBPost

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