Local officials hope plans to relocate an aviary will not only better protect endangered birds and enhance safety at Atlantic City’s airport but also boost the economy by creating jobs.

Atlantic County is attempting to relocate a bird sanctuary from Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township to land it wants to buy within Hamilton Township.

The county is considering buying 223 acres adjacent to the eastbound Atlantic City Expressway in the township, county Executive Dennis Levinson said in a statement.

The parcel is near expressway milepost 18 and less than a half-mile west of the Egg Harbor Toll Plaza, Levinson said.

“Municipalities do not directly participate in the county’s acquisition efforts, however, the county’s policy is to seek a resolution of support from municipalities in which preservation efforts will be targeted,” Levinson said.

Hamilton Township Mayor Art Schenker sent a letter to Levinson in support of the county’s purchase of the land for a bird sanctuary, said Arch Liston, the township administrator.

The project has multiple benefits, Levinson said.

“First, it will provide habitat to relocate a sanctuary for endangered birds now situated adjacent to the main runway at Atlantic City International Airport,” Levinson said. “Second, it will enhance safety at the airport, where birds can’t collide with planes and pose a serious threat to aircraft and wildlife.”

Third, if the habitat is relocated, the runway-side land now home to the bird sanctuary can be used in support of the county’s plan to create high-quality jobs around the airport and continue to diversify our regional economy, Levinson said.

Lauren H. Moore, executive director of the Atlantic County Economic Alliance, said space at the airport could be used for a maintenance and repair facility, an aircraft warehouse and cargo storage.

“We are in a prime position to really grow and expand,” said Moore, who added Philadelphia International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport do not have the room to expand.

For 15 years, two state-protected bird species have called the Atlantic City airport home — the endangered upland sandpiper and the threatened grasshopper sparrow. There were only five pairs of the former in the state last year, and few spots in South Jersey where they can be reintroduced.

The South Jersey Transportation Authority wanted to mow the tall 290-acre grassland area that’s been maintained for them inside the airport’s boundaries and establish a new conservation site for the birds elsewhere in the Pinelands.

In April 2019, an amendment was made to the memorandum of agreement between the New Jersey Pinelands Commission and the South Jersey Transportation Authority.

The Pinelands Commission and the Transportation Authority agreed that the Authority may mow the Grassland Conservation and Management Area, where the birds are, to a Federal Aviation Administration-recommended height of 5-to-10 inches and maintain the grasses within the Grassland Conservation and Management Area at this height year-round going forward.

The grass has been mowed in the Grassland Conservation and Management Area, said Mark Amorosi, communications manager, South Jersey Transportation Authority.

Rhyan Grech, the policy advocate for the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, said she doesn’t know whether the upland sandpiper and the grasshopper sparrow made their migratory stops at the airport this year.

“With their habitat destroyed, presumably, they are no longer there,” said Grech about the upland sandpiper and grasshopper sparrow. “It was gone about the wrong way. ... The idea is to establish habitat elsewhere first.”

Eric Stiles, president and CEO of New Jersey Audubon, said the breeding and migratory habits of the birds would dictate that they would be at the airport from April to October with the core time being May to July.

“We want to be part of the solution. ... We have the expertise,” said Stiles, who added his organization has not been invited to be a part of the discussion of where the new Grassland Conservation and Management Area should be. “There is a grassland expert who lives in Atlantic County.”

Contact: 609-272-7202

VJackson@pressofac.com

Twitter@ACPressJackson

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