Forget local citizen’s groups. One of the most effective ways to stop a Wal-Mart supercenter is with an endangered species, and one of the best sprawl-busters in New Jersey is a reptile known as the northern pine snake. Sprawl-Busters reported on May 6, 2006, that this snake had delayed a Wal-Mart supercenter in Dover, New Jersey, where the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) refused to grant Wal-Mart a Coastal Area Facility Review Act permit because of this endangered reptile on the property. This snake’s bite appears to be deadly. Seven months later, the retailer’s plans to build a 228,000-s.f. supercenter in Toms River along Route 37 West may have slithered away. The northern pine snake that hibernates on the 43-acre site has held up the supercenter. The project already has a green light from the planning boards in Dover and Manchester. Last June, the state Department of Environmental Protection denied a Coastal Area Facilities Review Act (CAFRA) permit because a male northern pine snake had spent the winter in a den on the property. “This story is just hard to believe,” said Toms River Mayor Paul Brush, “that one snake is holding up the development of this retail center, that whole Route 37 corridor, and potentially, the Ciba-Geigy site. I’m just so frustrated with the position of the DEP on this.” Toms River officials are concerned that the northern pine snake is also living on the 1,350-acre Ciba-Geigy Corp. superfund site, which officials view as crucial to the township’s economic well-being. The property owners claim to have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on environmental studies of the Wal-Mart site, including paying $26,000 to have a veterinarian from Rutgers University implant transmitters in two northern pine snakes found on the property in the fall. One of the snakes left the property in the fall and hibernated for the winter in a paint can. But the second snake hibernated on the Wal-Mart site. State officials’ say there are many snake dens on the property. Last January, the New Jersey DEP told the landowner that no form of mitigation would be allowed, and that the CAFRA permit would be denied. The landowner then appealed the DEP’s decision to the Office of Administrative Law, and gathered 7,000 signatures on petitions from residents who want another Wal-Mart.
It is ironic that Wal-Mart, which has been described as a “retail reptile,” should find its project coiled around this one snake for months. But the northern pine has proven to be as good an opponent to Wal-Mart as the best organized citizen’s group. For an earlier story, search Newsflash by “northern pine snake.”