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The Thunderbolt Racetrack: Issues and Perspectives

September 9, 2005

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The following letter was sent today to the Editor of the Bridgeton News, Bridgeton, NJ.

Dear Editor:

In the last month or so I have been mentioned in your BEN-Holly column as a "...famous local parachutist..." and, more recently, the column mentioned the possibility of parachuting me in to stop all the tax exempt land in Downe Township. I'm extremely proud for having served in the 82nd Airborne Division during the Viet-Nam era. Although I must admit being referred to as 'famous' beats 'infamous' any day, I would much rather be remembered for bringing rational, intelligent thought and common sense to the issues of the Thunderbolt Raceway in Millville and the tax exempt land issues affecting many of Cumberland County's municipalities.

This letter addresses Thunderbolt Raceway issues; tax exempt land issues will have to wait for another day.

I would guess that I'm one of the few non-attorneys or non-public officials who has actually read the entire legal complaint filed against the City of Millville Planning Board. The formal complaint itself is 21 pages long. There are an additional 27 pages of certifications, exhibits and supporting documents associated with the complaint. In addition to studying the complaint, I've read every related document generated by the Planning board which is associated with the Thunderbolt Track. In addition to reading all of the documents at least three times, I attended the Planning Board and City Council meetings at which the Thunderbolt Track was discussed. I spoke as a person in favor of the track at two or three of those meetings.

I worked at Airwork on the construction crew which built the jet engine test cell as well as having worked in the Airwork plating shop. When I owned parachute schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, I kept my jump airplane at the Millville Airport. I had an office in what was then the Kane Steel Hanger. I have a commercial pilot license with over 2000 hours of flying time. In my many years of association with flying in general and the Millville Airport specifically, I learned something: airplanes make lots of noise.

Airplanes, particularly Gulfstream G-series, Falcons and 707s, make much more noise than any racecar I have ever heard. Where were the participants in this litigation when the screaming exhaust of those jets was pointed toward the habitat of "a Red-headed Woodpecker" or the Frosted Elfin? Were the environmentalists not concerned about the sparrows and the salamanders back then?

When Airwork was in full swing as one of the county's major employers, I often listened to the near deafening roar of the engine test cell and to the even louder noise coming from the engine run-up area at the far corner of the airport. For many years when engines were being tested, the planes were towed to a run-up area and the aft end of the planes was always pointed toward the Bevan Wildlife Area--which is mentioned in the complaint-- to minimize adverse noise on the surrounding human population.

Where were the environmentalists when that was happening? Didn't they care about the tree frogs and the corn snakes back then?

In 1965 when I first moved to Downe Township, I considered myself an avid environmentalist; I no longer do so. Although I maintain and manage a beautiful 95 acre wildlife sanctuary with miles of nature trails and scenic overlooks, I am disenchanted about environmentalism because the most important threatened species, homo sapiens, is being forgotten…in favor of a frog or a snake. Cumberland County needs jobs and a future.

Representatives of the New Jersey Audubon Society, one of the plaintiffs in the subject litigation, lobbied to have me include my nature center in their list of destinations for bird watching. I quickly became disenchanted with the idea of being included in that list when it became apparent to me that during the Audubon-sponsored Raptor Festival, as well as at many other times, bird watchers were coming to the Downe Township convenience center in hopes of seeing a hawk or an owl capture a feral cat or errant mouse which feast on the garbage at the center.

The Downe center is within a 25 year flood plane, the CAFRA zone, a wetlands buffer area and blocks an intermittent stream corridor. Where were the litigants in the Thunderbolt issue when the Downe center was built? Did they not care about the environment then? Do they not realize that the center is only 1000 feet from the famous Bear Swamp with all of its frogs and snakes and old-growth forest?

This letter to the editor is meaningless in the total scheme of the litigation against the Thunderbolt Track. I realize that my letter will be long-forgotten just as the scores of other letters written in support of the track. My argument that the working person of Cumberland County is more important than a frog or a snake will have no effect on the outcome of the litigation.

I can only hope that the judge hearing this case will realize that the plaintiffs are grasping at environmental straws because, it seems, they don’t want growth and prosperity in their back yard.

I have created a webpage addressing many issues related to the above which can be seen at my website:

Bernard Sayers

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2006 Bernard Sayers